QR codes now help visually impaired and blind people explore the city

By simply detecting a QR code with a smartphone’s camera, you can activate an audio message with warnings and useful tips on how to find your way around, thus creating an Augmented Reality sound map. 

The main public transport operator in Barcelona (TMB) has now come up with the idea of using colorful stickers to help visually impaired and blind people get around the city. And no, it is not a paradox, but rather a very well-thought-out use of our camera phones. 

Designed by the Mobile Vision Research Lab of the University of Alicante in partnership with the Spanish startup NaviLens, these 5x5 stickers are little black squares with a stylized design embedded in the center. Despite looking like pixel art, these stylized designs are Next-Gen QR codes that alert and communicate in real time with visually impaired and blind people. They can give warnings - for example if there are very steep stairs - or recommend the best subway entrance.

And users don’t have to engage in difficult tasks, but simply point the smartphone at something in front of them or hold it around their neck with the camera pointing forward. 

In fact, all codes can be automatically detected thanks to a free app: the phone vibrates when it detects a QR code and the alert message can be played by a flick of the wrist. But the breaking news is the fact that the users don’t have to focus the camera to the QR code: the codes redesigned by NaviLens can be easily read from 15 meters away, even when the user “wearing” the camera phone is moving. Above all, they can also be read when near the edges of the field of view of a wide-angle lens, up to a 160-degree angle. Obviously, every code can then be personalized: for example, they can come in different languages. Long story short, in this case the technological system replaces the experience. And while previously blind people had to learn their route by heart, now they can explore new places guided by a sort of point-to-point navigation. After the first trial period on a single metro and bus line, the NaviLens system will soon be extended to all 159 metro stations in the city and up to 2,400 bus stops, for a total of tens of thousands of QR codes.

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