Aira & Aira Access
I am saving the best new open window for last. In March 2015 I received an email from Larry Bock, a gentleman who said that he was representing a company called Aira tech Corp. As he explained it, Aira was a new company that had developed a unique and innovative product for blind people. The product consisted of smart glasses with a high resolution live streaming camera built into them, an app that would run on any smart phone and live agents around the country.
The way the product would work is that a blind user could activate the app on their smart phone which in turn would activate the camera in the smart glasses which in turn would transmit any images seen by the camera to agents through the Internet. So, if I were wearing the glasses wherever I looked what my camera saw would be sent to the agent who would then describe the streaming video images. The agents were trained by Aira to describe these images and thus provide visual information that otherwise would not be available to me because I couldn’t see it. The app also included an audio component, so I could hear what the agent was saying through my smart phone. It was made very clear to me that the intent of this product was to provide visual information and not “help quote in the way most people would interpret it. Agents, for example would not tell me when it was safe to cross the street or how to perform any other task. The agent would give me visual information such as “I don’t see any cars coming” or whatever other information I might require that would empower me to be able to then make whatever decision I needed to make. As I often say,” the lack of eye sight is not the problem I face”. “instead the real challenges of blindness come from the low expectations people have about blind people as well as the lack of information available to me so that I can function as an equal member of society.”
Aira stands for Artificial Intelligence Remote Access. Picture it as eyesight on demand. I was invited to join Aira’s science advisory board and to bring my knowledge of the blindness world to the company to help refine agent training as well as to assist in giving the company a good philosophical grounding in blindness. I volunteered on the board for two years and then joined the Aira staff last year. It is been quite an exciting ride. What’s really fun about the whole process is that as I travel and speak around the country, I have the opportunity to demonstrate Aira not only to introduce new people, blind and cited alike, to the product but Aira helps me with my work to educate people about blindness and to show the world in a new and revolutionary way why and how blind people are just like everyone else. You can read more about Aira by visiting www.Aira.IO.
Aira is a subscription service. This means that on a monthly basis people who wish to subscribe to the service and use it anywhere pay a fee based on the amount of time they anticipate using Aira that month. There are no long-term contracts which means that Aira users, (we call them explorers), can change their Aira planet will adding or reducing the amount of time they plan to use Aira that month. The problem is that with the extremely high unemployment rate of employable blind people, (between 65% and 70%), even with the incredible value Aira brings to our lives the service is just not affordable. One-way Aira is working to address this is by introducing a concept called Aira Access. Briefly, Aira is working to provide free access to Aira in a variety of different situations. In one case, Intuit has provided funding to Aira so that any blind small business owner can use Aira free of charge to perform any tasks relating to their business that require site and thus would incorporate the use of Aira. AT&T has paid for Aira access time and made all their 5300+ stores Aira access locations so that any time any blind person enters their stores Aira is available for use free of charge. Wegmans grocers and Walgreens are the latest operations to join the Aira Access network family. Blind people do not have to sign up for Aira and pay for the subscription service to use Aira in any of these Aira access locations. Aira has created a guest sign-up process to facilitate this.