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PenFriend audio labeller

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PenFriend audio labeller

Manufacturer: RNIB
Dimensions: 8in x 1.5in
Weight: n/a
Model Number: DL76
Date Released: August, 2009

The PenFriend is a audio labelling system for individuals who are blind or have low vision. The system consists of a digital pen and labels which contain barcodes that the pen can read. The pen has memory built into it, along with a microphone and speaker system. This allows an individual to place a label, scan it with the pen, and then make an audio recording of what that particular label represents.

The PenFriend was developed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) along with a UK based company Mantra Lingua. The Penfriend also comes with 127 mixed labels, 1GB of memory (70 hours of recording time), a USB cable (for backup), a lanyard, and batteries. No computer is required, as the process is as simple as placing a label, clicking the record button over the label, and speaking the message.

The Penfriend uses optical identification technology (OID) in the microdots on the labels. These microdots can then be read by the scanner tip of the Penfriend, triggering an MP3 message that is played aloud. This also means that the Penfriend can also be used as a standalone MP3 player, playing audiobooks or music of the individual's choice. The recordings can be as long or as short as is necessary to describe the object, and can assist in recalling larger amounts of data, such as a track listing of a CD.

Using the PenFriend to read a label
Using the PenFriend to read a label


Operating the PenFriend

The following section will discuss the operation of the PenFriend. To begin, hold the Penfriend with the pointed end down and the buttons toward the user. On the front of the PenFriend there are four buttons: the power button, the volume switch, the mode button, and the bottom button closest to the end of the pen is the record button.

Close up view of the PenFriend.
Close up view of the PenFriend.

Turning on the Pen

To start the pen, hold down the power button (which is the one furthest from the pentip) for two to three seconds. An audible beep will sound. To turn the pen off press the same button again until a chime sounds. If the pen is not used for three minutes it will chime and shut itself off.


The fourth button, nearest to the pentip is the one that allows the user to make recordings associated with labels. To record press and hold the record button, and while the pen is upright touch any label. A beep will sound and recording will begin. The record button must be pressed while recording audio messages. When finished, release the button to have the message automatically stored. To play the message back, simply touch the designated label. When recording, the ideal distance is to have the pen approximately 1 foot away from the mouth. To re-record, simply hold the record button and select a label.

Uses for the PenFriend

The Penfriend can be used in a variety of situations where seeing or reading might be challenging. This section outlines some of the potential areas where it can help. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just a starting point to have a better understanding. Feel free to add any others that might be missing from this discussion.

Around the Home

  • Food Items - The PenFriend can be used to assist with sell by dates, cooking instructions, dietary information or the date something was placed in the freezer. It can also be used in conjunction with magnetic tape to make reusable labels, allowing easy movement of the labels from one can to another.
  • Media Collections - It can also help keep track of those favorite CD's / DVD's in a music / film library. It can keep film titles, a synopsis, actors or artists, track names or albumn information.
  • Clothing - Although the labels can't be washed, they can be used with any dry cleaned item. It can also be used to provide information on a piece of clothing by attaching the label to a card connected to the hanger. This can also be valuable for assisting with what pieces of clothes go together with each other.
  • Medicine - The PenFriend can be used to keep track of prescribe / purchase dates, medicine information, dosage amounts, and special provisions when taking it, such as take with food.

At the Store

  • In the store - The Pen Friend can be used as a recording device to help keep track of each item placed in the individual's cart.
  • Shopping lists - Use the PenFriend and attach a label to a cell phone to make a list that can be added to on the go.

In the Classroom

  • Penfriend for students can be used to organize notes and keep track of appointments and schedules.
  • Can also be used in the classroom to label objects and to work with children on speech exercises through the pronunciation of their own voices.

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