The Basque Transport Ministry introduces the Navilens guidance system for the visually impaired on the Vitoria-Gasteiz Tramway
All the Vitoria-Gasteiz Tramway stops now have the Navilens guidance system for the visually impaired installed. Thanks to the Transport Ministry, through its publicly-owned entity ETS-RFV, the tramway of the capital of Álava now has the system that is already available on Line 3 of the Metro de Bilbao subway, the Txorierri Line and Bilbao's tramway.
The solution uses a new signage system, which are codes known as ddTags, similar to QR codes. The labels are read using any mobile device with a camera and internet connection. The strengths of this system are that the signs can be read from a great distance, in any light conditions and from any reading angle.
Visually impaired users can use these codes as they do not need to precisely know where the signs are place. The information obtained from each label is read out aloud. The codes can also contain any type of information and which is fully accessible. This information is available in 34 languages, including Basque, and thus breaks down all linguistic barriers.
Euskal Trenbide Sarea has invested €32,870 and six (6) months in setting up this guidance system at the 23 Vitoria-Gasteiz Tramway stops. The service will subsequently be installed at the five stops of the Salburua branch line.
A pilot test was run at Metro de Bilbao's Casco Viejo subway station during early 2021 and it received the approval of the Territorial Delegation of the ONCE [Spanish National Organization of the Blind] in the Basque Country. In its report, the ONCE pointed out that "it is an excellent information tool in technology-supported guidance, although it should coexist with other less technological resources that have also proven their effectiveness and need for the autonomy of the blind along those routes".
Anybody interested in trying this initiative should first download, free of charge, the NaviLens app . Once installed on the mobile device and with the app open, the user just has to use the mobile's camera to scan the code and obtain the necessary contextualised information. The Navilens codes can be scanned by the user on the move and without needing to focus, which is essential for the visually impaired. The application is available for IOS and Android.
There is also another way of accessing the information in Basque. The user just has to download the AhoTTS application, a text-to-speech conversion system developed by the Aholab research group at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). It is only available for Android at the moment.
It should also be noted that the Navilens codes at the tramway stops have QR codes with information on the tram times. This feature is aimed at people without disabilities as QR codes do require the users to focus on them with their cameras. Once the codes have been scanned, the Navilens GO application will open and show the real time information of the times the next trams will be arriving.
This is a more accessible and easier system for users to deal with places such as subway stations and tramway stops. The main goal is for the visually impaired to get around independently and autonomously.