Novartis launches smartwatch navigation app for the visually impaired

By Jonah Comstock
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View ViaOpta Nav direction and distance promptNovartis has released a new Apple Watch and Android Wear app geared at helping visually-impaired people navigate their environment. The app is one of two Via Opta apps that have been available on the iPhone since August 2014, but a new upgrade adds additional features and brings Via Opta Nav onto a wearable for more convenient navigation.

“Novartis is committed to providing innovative solutions which go beyond medicine, like these apps for the visually impaired which benefit their daily quality of life,” David Epstein, head of the pharma division at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement. “We are proud to contribute and play a role in making these simple and convenient tools like the ViaOpta Daily and ViaOpta Nav apps available around the world.”

Via Opta Nav provides turn-by-turn navigation instructions, similar to driving navigation apps like Google Maps. Voice guidance and vibrations alert visually impaired people to turns, intersections, and landmarks. Users can also ask the app for their exact location, add waypoints to their route, and search for nearby destinations. They can share their location with a friend or caretaker from the app. In some areas, the app can also provide information about the accessibility features nearby such as traffic lights with sound.

Via Opta Daily, which helps users navigate in their day-to-day life, will not be available for wearable devices because its features rely on the smartphone camera, a Novartis spokesperson told MobiHealthNews. The app has an “Object Recognizer” feature and a “Scene Recognizer” feature, each of which allows the user to point the device’s camera at an object or place and have the device vocally identify it. For instance, it can recognize different denominations of money or pick out colors.

The apps are deployed worldwide and available in English, German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Greek, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian and Hungarian. They are free to download.

Novartis currently has 26 active apps in the Apple app store, twice as many as it had in August 2014, and has discontinued nearly as many according to App Annie. The pharma company is exploring mobile health opportunities including mobile health gaming, health tracking apps, and apps for connecting patients with clinical trials.