LookTel Recognizer Documentation

July 30, 2012 – Version 6.1

Welcome to Recognizer

The LookTel Recognizer App is intended for persons who are blind, or who have sufficiently impaired vision to need special labeling to be able to identify cans, packages, ID or credit cards, DVDs, and similar items. It permits a person to store images of objects in a library or database, and have the IOS device "recognize" these items later, by scanning the items with the camera. A barcode scanner is also included to provide additional labeling help.

The app also permits the recognition of signage, and may be used to identify commercial establishments, landmarks, and other features of the environment to confirm a destination, or point of interest. The use as an orientation aid is an evolving capability. At present, it is best used in semi-familiar and/or familiar areas where a confirmation or verification is helpful.


The Recognizer App is an app for IOS devices made by Apple that have a camera, and are running IOS 4.3 or greater. These include the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, the iPad 2, the New iPad, and iPod Touch 3 and 4, as of spring, 2012.

Using Recognizer

Once the app is downloaded on to your IOS device, you must create an image library. Recognizer does not at present, have access to a pre-built library. You will probably need sighted assistance in creating the image library if you have a severe visual impairment, or are blind.

Creating the library is easy, and can be fun, especially if you have a friend or family member who is a shutterbug. While it may seem to take a lot of time, it takes far less than most people imagine to create an excellent library of images. Once the library exists, less and less time is required of a sighted person, as you will find Recognizer can already identify most items that are used daily reliably and accurately every time.

When you start the app, you will see that the main screen is simple. It works well with VoiceOver, and is intended to be used with VoiceOver most of the time. Some sighted assistants may prefer to turn off VoiceOver while capturing images for your library. The app works as well without VoiceOver turned on.

The main screen has 4 buttons. These are:

* Settings
* Data
* Capture Image
* Start/Stop barcode scanning

The Settings button opens a menu of items:

* The number of elements or items in your Library,

* A setting for Recognition On/Off. This setting permits you to turn off the recognition of items while you are attempting to capture images for your library of items.

* Enter description using audio – tab,

  • * Enter description using text – tab.

These tabs let you set Recognizer to use either audio labels on your items, or text labels.  The use of audio labels is convenient and fast.  The use of text labels permits using Recognizer with a braille output device.  Text labels can be entered when working in environments with a high ambient noise, and will be read clearly later.

* Order by date/description

This is a toggle, with a default of date.  Leaving this set to date will keep the familiar organization within your library.   Toggling this setting to “description”, will cause the items in your library to be displayed by either a text or audio description.  You will have to double or split tap to open the detail screen to make changes, or to see the date of image capture reliably.

* Documentation - this manual.

* The LookTel Recognizer Privacy Statement,

* An Opt-In On/Off switch. This permits you to share in the improvement and development of Recognizer by turning this option to "On". Anonymous information from Recognizer is shared with LookTel that assists the team in diagnosing problems, assessing improvements, and implementing new features. This is the same Opt-In switch and Privacy statement you will see when you first open the Recognizer app after obtaining Recognizer. You will see it again if you reinstall Recognizer. If you skipped it then, you can now choose to Opt-In and participate in the development and improvement of Recognizer.

* The version number for Recognizer.

The data button opens the data library. This is where captured images are stored. When an image is captured, it is placed in this library. It is possible to open the library, locate an image, delete it, or edit either the text or audio tag on the image, should you wish to do so. The screen allows listening to the audio and text labels.  Images are stored with their names being the dates they were added to the library, unless you have updated those images with text tags.  Then, the text labels will be the names of the items.

Since items in your library are listed in this way, by dates, from the most recent, which are located at the top of the screen, to the oldest items, which are located at the end of the library, it is very easy to remove or edit the last entry in your library should you choose to do so.

To remove the last image you scanned:

Since items in the library are listed from the oldest, to the newest, the most recent item captured will always be at the top of the first page in the library.  To delete the last image captured, open the database by using a double or split tap on the data button of the main screen.  Flick to the first item, and listen to the audio description.  If this is the item you wish to remove, you can then do so through a few simple steps.  The steps vary according to your settings.

If you chose to retain the display of items by date, you can easily flick or touch the screen to find the first item in the library, and see that it is the item you just captured.  You can play the audio description, or obtain more details and delete the audio description, or the item itself. 

If you chose to make a setting change to display all your items by description, the dates will not appear immediately as you flick through your library, or touch the screen.  You will hear the text or audio description instead.  To see the date, you must double or split tap on a description.  You will then have a new screen that permits you to delete an item description and provide a new one, or delete the item entirely.

A Last Recognized Image button is available in the upper right of the Data screen immediately after an image has been scanned. This will permit you to delete or edit the last recognized item in your library, without the need for you to go searching through your library for it yourself. If you have just used Recognizer to identify a can of beans, which you added to your library a week earlier, you could use this feature to bring up that item and easily change its audio description or even delete the item entirely if you choose.

When you open the detail screen, or split/double tap on a description to obtain the detail page, you will notice an option to email that image and description.   Individual items can be sent through email with their descriptions.   This same screen permits you to provide a text description, and replace the audio descriptions in your library, should you wish to do so.  This may be desirable if the initial audio description was difficult to understand, or you may wish to share that image with a person who cannot hear the audio description.

There is an additional button at the bottom of the screen that permits exporting of the library through email. This is discussed in a later section devoted specifically to this capability. The button is labeled as "Share Items".

The capture image button starts the sequence for photographing a given item. This process will be described in more detail in the next section.

Storing and Naming Images

Begin by choosing the items you wish to recognize and placing them on a neutral background--one with no pattern or unusual visual characteristics. Have the sighted person assist in making the photos, as the best photos are ones in which the object fills the iPhone view field, but in which the entire image is shown. Lighting is best if it is "normal"--as in good for a sighted person to read or handle the items in an ordinary way. Focusing on the unique visual qualities of an item, minimizing background, and using good lighting, will produce high quality images for reliable and fast recognition.

While Recognizer does have a capability to adjust lighting by turning on the torch when lighting is deficient, this capability is best used when you cannot know the lighting around you, and the work area. Like MoneyReader, this capability is automatic, and will only let you know it is working when lighting is less than adequate.

Double-tap the Capture Image button to take a photo. Note that a double-tap is required even if VoiceOver is off. Once an image is photographed, the app will ask you to record a name for the image. You have up to 60 seconds to name, or describe the item, which tells what the object is, i.e., "Diced Tomatoes", or "green beans". The recording will cut off before 60 seconds have passed if you stop speaking. You may also stop the recording by double or split tapping on the screen.

Alternatively, you may choose to enter a text label for the item description.  You can set your preference in Settings, and Recognizer will then prompt for either audio or test, depending on your choice in settings.

If you choose to use an audio description, an additional method for stopping the recording has been added. You may shake your iPhone, to stop the recording of the description.

These methods are helpful if there is background noise. It is best to record in a quiet place to minimize background sounds in your recordings, or use a text label, which will not reflect background sounds.

For those using audio descriptions, the longer interval has been suggested by persons using Recognizer, in order to give time for recording cooking directions, nutritional information, or a reference to other relevant information.

Examples might include: Frozen Mixed Vegetables - Cook in a microwave at full power for 7 minutes in a closed dish with no water added. Add salt and butter to taste.

Salt Free Tomato Paste - Save for Mom’s birthday party, to make a recipe that Mom can eat.

Fresh Pear Halves - Save for food drive. This is preserved in high fructose corn syrup, and has too many calories for my diet.

The app will play back the name--audio label--that you gave the image. You can then return to the main screen of the app, or go to the Data screen, where you can edit the name by re-recording it, or delete the image.

Recognizing Items

After images are stored and named in your device, you are set to recognize them. This is as simple as holding the device so that the object is in the view of the camera, and letting the app name the image for you. It will play either your voice recording or the text tag, when it recognizes the image.  If the audio description is too long for a quick identification, you can touch another item to stop the playing of the description.

Recognition generally happens quickly, with larger objects being recognized more quickly than very small objects, and feature-rich images being recognized more quickly than less feature-rich images.

Getting the Best Images

There are several basic concepts that can help to insure that you have high quality images in your library. With a little preparation, you can easily create excellent images for later recognition, saving time and effort daily.

* Create a good work space for capturing images

This is as simple as having a clear area on which you might place a neutral or all white poster board, drop cloth, or sheet, so that you have a plain and featureless background for all images.

* Have normal lighting. Excessive or too little lighting can also work, but probably not as reliably. To insure that you have the best quality of images, use normal lighting in which a sighted person can easily read all items, even small print.

Recognizer includes an automatic adjustment capability. It will try to compensate for low light levels, and possibly alert you if it cannot do so.

* When images are being made, focus the camera so that the maximum amount of the image is in view, with little or no background showing. This will prevent the background from later being identified as an image.

Example: If a wood grain table is used as a background, and a jar of jelly is on the surface, with the table captured as background in the image, the table itself may later be identified as the jelly. When the camera is focused on the table, it Recognizer calls it "grape jelly", this is usually what has happened.

Using a plain background, focusing on the jelly jar itself, with no background, or a minimal background showing, will produce better results.

* When capturing images of similar items, focus on the difference among the items--leaving out logos, and brand names that are alike.

Useful Tips and Tricks

There are several useful tips that we can pass on that will enrich your experience with this app. The first is to photograph each object with the maximum amount of the image in the view field. This gives the app the greatest amount of material from which to perform a recognition later. If this is not possible, then choose the most feature-rich area of the image to include. You will want to know something of the orientation of the object, as you will need that to get the best recognition later. It only makes sense that you have to have the same portion of the object in view to recognize it. Photographing one side, then viewing the opposite side will not provide any recognition. This leads us to the next useful tip.

If you choose to include canned items in your library, and many of us will, here is a useful tip. On many, American canned goods, the labels are rolled on in a clockwise direction, assuming the top of the can to be up. This places the seam always in one orientation with respect to the can, and even more helpfully, tells you on which side of the can the image will be in many instances. If you set the can on a counter top, then orient it to have the seam at a 9:00 position viewing the can from the top, the front image of the can will be at the 6:00 position--facing you! If you photograph the can in this orientation, you only need one photo per can, and can orient it quickly and easily for later recognition. You need not photograph all sides of the can or bottle.

On some cans where the label is rolled on in the reverse direction, the image is opposite. The seam will need to be at 3:00, for the image to be at 6:00. Walmart seems to have many items of this kind.

For packaged goods, large diameter objects with no obvious seam to orient them, you will want to make more than one image of the object. You can name them as front panel, or back panel of item.

This app can recognize frozen packaged goods. We did do tests with packages of frozen vegetables, and we find it can recognize them, though often more slowly, and with some difficulty--still, it can do it with only a little patience.

When doing similar items, you may need to do all items of a group. For example, if you want to know the difference between tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and whole tomatoes, you will need to do all of the cans. Doing one kind, and later trying to find it in your cupboard can result in errors, as others that were not "learned", can be mistaken as the one you want.

Example: Scanning only diced tomatoes and not the others, can mean that when you are looking in the cupboard, and choose a can of whole tomatoes, it may be recognized as diced, when it is not. This assumes the same brand applies to all of the cans. Different brands may assist in having a more accurate recognition.

This leads to the next tip:

When capturing images of items that all have the same brand name, logo, and other graphic similarities, it is best to focus the camera on the aspects of the images that are different between otherwise like items. Try to leave out of the image, the brand name, the logo, banner, background, or borders, focusing instead on a photo of the contents, or a symbolic representation that is unique to that can, bottle, package, or container. This will produce faster and more accurate recognition later.


Naturally, we include warnings with this app. This app should never be used as the sole means to recognize medications, nutritional supplements, or hazardous and toxic substances. No matter how well it performs for you, please do not use this app as your only means to determine what medication you are taking, or what cleaning fluid you might wish to use, bug sprays, paints, etc.

Our tests have demonstrated that smaller items, such as medicine bottles, eye drop bottles, etc. are not recognized with reliability or accuracy sufficient to making this a safe practice. Yes, we can do it, but a backup method is always recommended to insure your safety.

Barcode Scanning

For your convenience, a barcode scanner is part of Recognizer. There are times when no sighted person is available to help make an image for your library, and you will wish to identify that can that might be soup, or it might be fruit cocktail. Recognizer includes a barcode scanner that may help you to determine which it is before you open the can. Opening the soup, when you intended to make a fruit salad, is not helpful.

To use the barcode scanner, activate by double or split tapping the button. Holding the iPhone 4-8 inches, 10-20 cm, from the item, patiently scan that item to find the barcode. Recognizer will signal you with a tone when it captures the barcode. It will then go online, look up the item, or if it cannot find it, go to a screen containing the barcode translation, and look it up through Google for you. This may provide you additional information, or it may not.

This capability is updated to permit looking in other databases for the item. This should prove to be more satisfactory.  The database will continue to be upgraded to improve barcode results, and offer additional capabilities.

Barcode Scanning Tips

It is essential to *SLOWLY* scan with the camera over the item for a barcode. Moving too fast will cause Recognizer to miss the barcode. Some barcodes may be present, but printed in a way that is hard for Recognizer to capture. The barcode capability is far from perfect. You will want to put items into the Recognizer library and save yourself time and effort with fast and reliable identification when you encounter that item again.

The database used to look up barcodes has been augmented. It includes the look up of more than 10 million barcodes. If you have been using Recognizer before June of 2012, you may notice a difference in the barcode scanning performance.

Support for Bluetooth audio devices is available in Recognizer. This permits greater privacy when scanning items, and using Recognizer. Or conversely, it permits an instructor to use a Bluetooth speaker to conduct a demonstration or a class.

Possibly more important is the capability to use a Bluetooth braille device, which may permit many persons who are deaf and blind to use Recognizer.  If you find this to be helpful, we hope that you will let us know.

Because barcode scanning is an art, and not a science, we recommend that you practice on known items, where you may already know there is a barcode, and develop your techniques for scanning barcodes as reliably as scanning without vision permits. If you are frustrated with your progress, try making a game of it. Get sighted friends and family to participate by agreeing to keep their eyes closed while they do it. You will soon realize that you are better than you knew, and that your family and friends are far more willing to help you acquire images for your Recognizer library.

This process has inherent limitations for a person with limited or no vision. It is what engineers call "open loop control". This means that the feedback loop of vision to guide your scanning is missing, so that your control over the camera and scanning process is one of seek and hope. Sighted persons can use closed loop control, as they can see the barcode, and quickly scan it by moving the camera right over it, and better yet, they can see the barcode on the screen, so they know the app is ready to read it. They can tell it is focus, so they hold the camera at the right distance from the barcode. These are skills that person with limited or no vision must learn. We find that many times, errors or frustration occur because the camera is being held too close to the item. The optimal distance is approximately 4-8 inches, 10-20 cm, in most instances.

Backing Up and Restoring the Library

Creating a library of images involves spending valuable time, and often retaining the assistance of friends or family members to do it. You will never wish to lose your library of images once you have it. While Recognizer is unlikely to ever lose the library, as it does keep a backup copy in your phone, the loss of your phone, or damage to the phone, could cause the loss of that library--UNLESS, you have taken precautions to save your library!

The library can be saved and emailed to yourself, for later restoration, should it be necessary. This is done through the Data button on the main screen. Opening the data library will permit you to find the button for exporting items from the library by email.

Exporting Your Library

Once in your data library, you will find a button entitled ‘Share Items’ which is located at the very bottom of the screen. A four-finger single tap close to the bottom of the screen--with Voiceover running--will allow you to access this button quickly and easily.

Double-tapping the ‘Share Items’ button will bring up a simple email composition page just like you would find in your native iPhone Mail app. On this screen you can compose a message to yourself or simply use the message which is already provided for you.

To send this message with your attached library, simply enter an email address in the ‘To’ field of the message and double tap the Send button in the top right corner of the screen, or choose an email address from those in your Contacts and as before, double-tap the Send button to send your message. It is as simple as that.

Because mail systems often limit message size, the library will be broken into 100 image chunks.  Each 100 image message will have to be sent as a separate email, which for larger libraries, may be annoying.  We apologize for the inconvenience.  We continue to see better ways to share library images.

Once you have your message addressed, you will see a dialogue letting you know that the message is being sent and once you double-tap the OK button to exit the dialogue, you will be returned to the Data screen.

Importing Items from Email

When you would like to import items that you have sent yourself via email, simply open the email message which contains the attachment, using the Mail app on your phone, and scroll down to the bottom of the message. you will see the attachment as a button which you can double tap. When you do this, you will be given the choice to open the attached file in the Looktel Recognizer app. Double-tap the appropriate button to choose Recognizer and the app will come up for you and open the attached file. you will be shown a screen with a progress indicator which will announce Recognizer’s progress--in ten-percent increments, as it loads your data for you.

In this way you can either back up your entire library of Recognized items or a portion of it. Once the items are imported from the email attachment, they become part of your entire active Recognizer library, which you can access by double-tapping the Data button on the main screen, as you normally would.

You should back up your library whenever you have added a significant number of images to it. You will want to back it up if you upgrade your iPhone or IOS device to a new device, as it will not transfer otherwise.

Example: You have an iPhone 4, and are upgrading to a new iPhone 4S. It will be essential to back up the library by emailing it to yourself, then opening that email on the new 4S iPhone, so that you can easily restore the library on that iPhone.

Other Considerations

The libraries are additive, and Recognizer is able to automatically remove identical items. If you load your library twice, as you had 2 different versions of it, identical or redundant items will be removed, so that an item only appears once. This offers some advantages to you.

If you have family members or friends, who have iPhones, and are willing to assist, it is possible for them to have their own copy of Recognizer that they get from the app store, and load your library when you email it to them. They can add items for you, and mail the library back. They can tell what you already have in the library, as they have your copy. This way, they can add to your library more productively. Your new library can be emailed back to you, and you can add it to your current library, knowing that the redundant images will only appear once.

There are limitations! Email services are often limited in the number of megabytes they will accept in one email. Fortunately, a free Google email account will permit up to 20 megabytes in a single email. This is enough for a library of approximately 100 images. Some services are limited to 5 megabytes, so if you seem to have problems with email and your library, this may be why. In future, other methods for sharing library files will be possible.

For now, Recognizer will break up a larger library into 100 image segments, and permit you to email each one separately. This will assist with handling larger libraries of up to 500 images or so. We recognize that for larger libraries than this, it gets very tedious to send all those email messages. As of this writing, very few people have libraries of 300 images or more.

Recognizer Privacy

LookTel values your privacy. ¬ We thank you for purchasing and using LookTel Recognizer. All anonymized information collected is aggregated and used in its aggregate form. Anonymized information does have a city-level resolution. Used in aggregate, this information eliminates the city-level location information. No other personally identifiable information, PII, is collected by your purchase and/or use of this app.

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In the Recognizer Settings is a button that permits you to Opt-In, or volunteer to assist with the further development of Recognizer.  This button is located at the end of the Settings options.  Please select "Yes" to Opt-In if you wish to participate in improving LookTel Recognizer. Selecting "Yes" permits LookTel to collect anonymous data, used in aggregate form, to better determine future upgrades, analyze and understand bug reports, and meet customer requests for new features.  All location information is anonymized at a city-level resolution, and used in aggregate form so as to eliminate location information. No other personally identifiable information, PII, is collected by your selecting to provide us additional data.

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What is collected:

When you select "Yes" to Opt-In the data obtained from recognizer includes:

The length of time the app is run, the status of the app when closing, the time the app was in the foreground/background, battery levels (energy use), IOS version, and IOS device, are aggregated and provided to LookTel, as essential data for the further maintenance and development of the app.

Other data collected includes:

category: Error Notifications:
Crash Notifications
Problem deleting an item from the library
Problem with app initialization of the library

When database maintenance is required of the app

category: Recognition Performance
Barcode scan successfully answered
Barcode scan unanswered
QR code successfully scanned
Item successfully recognized

category: General Usage
Item Added
Item Deleted
Library Shared
Order of Library Date/Description

Explanations of Anonymous Data From Recognizer

The following explanations of the Opt-In data are provided so that no one need have any concern as to specifically what is collected. This list is the entire list collected from choosing to share the Opt-In data.

The length of time the app is run,

the status of the app when closing,

the time the app was in the foreground/background,

battery levels (energy use),

IOS version, and IOS device, are aggregated and provided to LookTel, as essential data for the further maintenance and development of the app.

Crash Notifications

Recognizer almost never crashes, but should it do so for any reason, LookTel would like to know, in order to correct any problem arising from IOS updates, or from any unforeseen circumstance.

Problem deleting an item from the library

If Recognizer fails to delete an item from the library completely, it is helpful for us to know when the item was added--was it just added? Or, is it an older item that has been in the library for some time? These errors are not normal for Recognizer, and LookTel wants to know when they occur, in order to preserve the integrity of every Recognizer library.

Problem with app initialization of the library

Sometimes large Recognizer libraries will fail to initialize. While we believe Recognizer is more stable in this regard than in prior versions, it is important for us to know how often this occurs, and with what size libraries.

When database maintenance is required of the app

Hopefully, no customer ever learns that a library has become corrupted! Software being what it is, this is possibly too optimistic. We want to know the bad news as much as the good. This item provides us the number of images in the library at the time it became corrupt. Recognizer will try to recover the library. We expect that if such a malfunction ever occurs, that the backup is recovered successfully, and that you are not inconvenienced too greatly.

Barcode found,

We will always be working to improve the quality of Recognizer, and we wish to track how often it is successful in finding a barcode in the database for you. Ideally, it should be at least 98%. This is a work in progress. We intend to be better than we are.

Barcode scan unanswered

For those times when you are disappointed with another failure to find a barcode, we want you to share with us what it is you were hoping to find. We keep score on ourselves, and intend to do better next time.

QR code successfully scanned

QR codes are becoming ever more common. We want to know how those using Recognizer are managing with them, and how often Recognizer is helpful at reading QR codes.

Item successfully recognized

We like to know when Recognizer performed well! We need a context for problems with respect to successes. Recognizer will send the number of successful scans with an anonymous event number.

Item Added

When you add items to the library, we want a count of the additions, as a context for understanding deletions, failures, or other Library issues. No images or image information is sent--only the notice that an item is added.

Item Deleted

We want a count of items you delete from the Library, as it helps us to understand any issues with adding images to the Library. No image information is sent--only the occurrence when an item is deleted.

Library Shared

This reports the sharing of the Library only. No data as to whom and where it was shared are collected. We expect to increase sharing options in future versions. This helps us to understand the frequency of sharing, and managing the Library.