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Aira’s new take on smart glasses helps blind people see the world

A glimpse of AR’s potential.

Going to a new coffee shop for the first time is often daunting for any of us. What do we want? How to read the menu without holding up the line? Where are the washrooms? Now imagine you’re visually impaired. Now there’s another level of complexity in daily tasks and on your perception of safety. Enter a new company to the assistive technology fold, Aira. They have a great twist on the usage of AR technology, and it’s literally life-changing.

Using augmented reality, Aira connects people who are blind or low vision to a trained professional agent who is dedicated to further enhancing their everyday experience – completely hands-free assistance at the touch of a button.

The service is simple at its core: Sign up, download the app to your smartphone and wait for your welcome kit, which includes their own smart glasses. On your first call, highly trained agents explain the service to you, and then you’re ready to connect anywhere for anything.

Essentially the service connects you by phone to an agent who can see whatever your smartglasses camera can see. It uses a 120-degree wide angle camera so the guides (Aira calls them Agents), can see more of the surroundings without having to ask the user (Aira calls them Explorers) to point their head in specific directions too often.


Image: Aira

Up until now, the hardware driving the service was a bit of a mashup between several commercially available devices. Now, Aira has produced their own pair of smart glasses that are designed from the ground-up to be an ideal solution for visually impaired users, that they call Horizon. It’s powered by the Aira Horizon Controller, a repurposed Samsung smartphone that powers the device regarding battery, computer, and network connection. This provides physical buttons for control, but it can also be connected to a smartphone if the user is more comfortable that way.

Taking a cue from the mobile marketplace, Aira has several pricing tiers, with $89 per month at their lowest tier getting you the smart glasses and 100 minutes of usage. There are two higher tiers for users who want extra time.

The startup is looking into the advances of Visual Recognition and AI and plans to bring their own digital assistant out soon, named Chloe. At launch, Chloe will be able to read aloud from the text the smart glasses are pointing at. Eventually, they plan to add further functionality as time goes on. They recently showed off a partnership with AT&T where their digital assistant was reading aloud the text on prescription bottles, which is an excellent use of the technology.

Aira is hoping to begin swapping out units already in use with their new Horizon smartglasses in June.

Do you know someone who would benefit from Aira? Do you think this sort of technology is actually useful for blind people? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

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Maker, meme-r, and unabashed geek with nearly half a decade of blogging experience at KnowTechie, SlashGear and XDA Developers. If it runs on electricity (or even if it doesn't), Joe probably has one around his office somewhere, with particular focus in gadgetry and handheld gaming. Shoot him an email at joe@knowtechie.com.

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