The formation of Aira

Google Glass was first announced to the public in 2012 and even debuted a prototype at a Foundation Fighting Blindness meeting that same year which created a buzz in the blind and visually impaired community about its future implications and functionality. Well, we all know that google glass did not meet the expectations of the public or the company. It was taken off the market for redesign and most likely will be more for industry in the future. However, in 2014 a group of individuals found potential in using the google glasses video camera and formed a company called Aira, to help people who are blind or visually impaired access information.

How it works…

Aira works by providing information to a person who is blind or visually impaired anytime they need it by sending a live video stream through the google glasses camera to a live sighted individual. Aira calls these sighted helpers, agents, who are trained to assist someone when called upon and speaks to him or her in real time. This may be to read a sign, navigate a street or any other task that an individual feels may require some sighted assistance. The device works in tandem with your smartphone and requires connectivity. When an agent is contacted they are looking at a computer display, which shows streaming video the google glass is seeing and also utilizes google maps to show the location of their client. Those wanting to use Aira must sign up for a service plan, much like we all do with our cell phone carriers.

Real-life experience and feedback

I spoke to a friend of mine, Brian Fischler, an assistive technology specialist who lost his sight in 2010, for his feedback on Aira after having signed up for the service about a month ago. He stated that “It was quite a thrill to walk down my block, which I have walked down thousands of times before and have an Aira agent describe everything around me.” He said it takes about 10 seconds to connect to an agent and you can set up personal preferences about how descriptive you want the agent to be about the surroundings. Brian also stressed that Aira was not a mobility tool for the blind, as a cane or a guide dog is still needed. He also states that “even though I am a fairly independent blind guy, I have some fears and limitations going to new places, but with using Aira that fear is gone.”

The challenges…

While there are many great reviews and excitement surrounding Aira, some have expressed to me that the plan’s pricing can be cost-prohibitive and to my knowledge is not a covered service by any insurance or vocational rehabilitation program. Other issues such as privacy and connectivity can also be an issue. Someone must also be an accomplished smartphone user and have good orientation and mobility skills. So this may not necessarily be for our elderly non-tech patients. The company is looking to create their own glasses with a streamlined design and is looking to the future of artificial intelligence. You can learn more about the company at www.aira.io.

I think it is important for us to know what’s out there and available for our low vision or blind patients. I try to stay on top of what new technology is available and get input directly from the source such as individuals like Brian Fischler utilizing it every day. If you also want to learn more about technology for people who are blind or visually impaired you can listen to a podcast show that Brian hosts called, “That Blind Tech Show, produced by Blind Abilities, https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/blind-abilities/id972152176?mt=2

There is a wealth of information here on Aira and other technologies on what we can recommend to our low vision patients.