AFB-AIRA Partnership Delivers Independence and Mobility for People With Vision Loss
Fast-Growing Tech Company Develops Live Camera & Sensor Feed that Allows Real-Time, One-on-One Access to Video Description
NEW YORK (January 26, 2017)— Inspired by a shared commitment to providing individuals with vision loss with innovative ways of experiencing the world and mastering their environments, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced a partnership with the emerging technology startup, Aira, to mainstream a revolutionary visual descriptor service.
"Aira has come forth with a most exciting and, potentially, liberating tool that can open a whole new world of possibilities for people with vision loss," said AFB President and CEO Kirk Adams. "Essentially, the system allows those who are blind or visually impaired to access at will another set of eyes," he said, noting that direct access to live descriptors allows users to take in the surrounding environment, making everyday tasks easier.
The system, developed by San Diego-based Aira, utilizes a small camera and a series of sensors that are mounted on a pair of smart eyeglasses. Once activated, the device streams images directly to a trained staff of remote human agents who then describe for the user what the camera lens sees in real time.
"Whether the task at hand requires operating a sophisticated console or safely navigating a sprawling airport, it's clear that Aira's new technology represents a quantum leap in independence and accessibility for those with visual impairments," Adams said. He added that the potential for widening opportunities for employment, education, and enhanced quality of life is "self-evident."
Backed by venture capital financing and technical partners like AT&T, Google, Uber, and others, Aira was founded by entrepreneur Suman Kanuganti in 2015. Kanuganti was inspired to start the service after his conversations with blind professionals around how wearable technology could be used to enhance information access to help the blind and visually impaired "become more mobile and independent." Today, their first 200 users (called Aira Explorers) utilize agents via smart devices to navigate city streets, transportation, and shopping; ease social interactions; participate in new adventures such as sports and entertainment; and travel the world.
Such real-time streaming conversations with visual interpreters weren't feasible as little as five years ago, according to Aira CEO Kanuganti. "We are thrilled to partner with the American Foundation for the Blind to bring this new technology to the community. Recent advances in wearable technology and wireless bandwidth have changed the game, and there are even greater improvements on the horizon," he said.
With AFB's assistance, Aira hopes to expand its service to people who are blind or visually impaired across the United States. It is currently accepting new signups for its Pioneer program and more information can be found at www.aira.io.
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. Headquartered in New York, AFB is proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly for AFB.
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