This is a guest blog, originally written by Jonathan Mosen. The full version entitled ‘A review of Aira. What it is, how it works, and the ways it has changed my life’ is on the Mosen Consulting website – http://mosen.org/aira/. Jonathan states he will be updating the post from time to time with additional information and experiences.
For information, Jonathan also produces The Blind Side Podcast (this can also be accessed via the Mosen Consulting website).
We have taken the following excerpts directly from Jonathan’s blog:
“When you’re involved with an industry, you tend to watch developments so closely that changes usually seem incremental. But occasionally, something new comes along that is so game changing, it stops you in your tracks. For me, San Diego-based Aira is one such technology.
According to the company’s website, Aira is today’s fastest growing assistive community. One tap of a button instantly connects you with a sighted professional agent who delivers visual assistance anytime and anywhere.
Here’s what that means in practice. At present, Aira is a smart phone app, available for iOS and Android. Since Aira is a service for blind people, it’s no surprise that the app is exemplary in terms of its accessibility. And in iOS, it even sports Siri integration.
Using the app, you can connect via video, much like a FaceTime call, with agents who can provide you with visual information. Audio quality is excellent, far clearer than a standard cell phone connection. Essentially, an Aira agent can tell you anything at all that a pair of functioning eyes can see, plus perform a range of tasks pertaining to that information.
You can acquire the visual information using your smart phone’s camera, or, when you become a subscriber to the Aira service (Aira calls its customers “explorers”) you receive a pair of smart glasses. These are included as part of your subscription, so there’s no hardware cost upfront.
Describing it like this makes it sound kind of cool. But I want to explain the impact that Aira has had on our lives in the brief time we have had it, to illustrate that, at least for some of us, this technology is more than just pretty cool, it’s life-changing.
If you’ve been reading this blog or listening to The Blind Side Podcast over the years, you will know that in recent times I have come out as having a hearing impairment. I love going to these big conferences because I get to catch up with old friends and make new ones, as well as see the latest and greatest technology. I hate going to these big conferences because often, I find myself in difficult audio environments. It can be very noisy. Hotel lobbies and restaurants are often exceedingly crowded, with high ceilings causing noise to bounce everywhere. The environment is difficult and tiring, but I keep going and doing the best I can, because the alternative is to sit at home and rust away, and I’m certainly not going to do that.
One smart thing that Aira has done is to start rolling out a concept called “site access”. With appropriate sponsorship, or perhaps at times where there will be many potential customers in one place, Aira can enable free access to a location or even the entire city through their smart city project. There are two benefits to the strategy. First, it’s helpful for existing Aira explorers because they can use the service as much as they want without it counting against their monthly plans. Second, anyone, even those not signed up with an Aira monthly plan, can go to the iOS App Store or the Google Play Store, download the app, create a guest account, and use the service for free. As I found out, it’s convenient to have access to Aira in such situations, and it offers the opportunity for Aira to convert those guests into full-time explorers. Smart stuff.
It was thanks to this program that I gave Aira a shot. Had I been required to go to the booth to give it a go, I probably would have run out of time and wouldn’t be writing this post. But it was a cinch to download the app and set up my guest account.
I first decided to put Aira through a simple test. Having arrived in San Diego after a long journey, I wasn’t taking much notice of the hotel layout when the porter showed me to my room. So, the next morning, I made my first call to Aira, and asked the friendly agent to guide me to the elevator. Not only did I get to the elevator effortlessly, I was also guided right to the button for the elevator.
But the call I will never forget is the one I made to ask for assistance getting to the exhibit hall while exhibits were being set up. If you’ve visited the Grand Hyatt in San Diego, you’ll know how cavernous the lobby can sound. When the lobby is full of people, I find it impossible to navigate, because there’s just so much sound bouncing everywhere. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Aira, but I was keen to see what would happen.
This is the moment when I transitioned from the intellectual understanding that “this is quite a good concept”, to the emotional connection that made me say “holy guacamole, this thing is changing my life!”
I’m not a guide dog handler at the moment, but I have been in the past. One of the advantages of working with a dog over using a cane is that you avoid many obstacles without ever coming into contact with them. The exception is if you are a cane user with good echolocation. I think that even with full hearing, I would have found echolocation difficult in that very noisy lobby, but it’s certainly not viable for me now. Therefore, in that type of environment, I often find myself hitting people’s legs with my cane, as I try to find a way forward. With the Aira agent talking in my hearing aids which were also delivering environmental sounds, I was getting information about where the crowds were, and when I needed to veer to avoid running into people. I was told when it was necessary to turn to reach my destination and given confirmation that I was indeed heading in the correct direction.
Because of my hearing, and the fact that I know navigating these environments can be difficult, I had allowed myself plenty of time to reach the exhibit hall. But I reached it much more quickly than I had anticipated, and with much less stress than usual.
When we eventually reached the exhibit hall, which was some considerable distance away, the agent informed me that the door was closed. I expected this, since I was heading to the exhibit hall before it was officially open to the public. The icing on the cake was when she said that she could see a counter to the left of the door with a sign labelled “Exhibit Services”. She then informed me that there was a man behind that counter and offered to lead me to him. She did so, and he let me in. Astounded, I thanked the agent, and ended the call.
Full disclosure, at this point, it gets a bit embarrassing. No technology has made me cry for joy before. But a stressful experience I have to psych myself up for had just been made effortless and enjoyable. I was utterly overwhelmed. This was all achieved with no more than the free app and the camera on my iPhone X.
The good news is that Aira is preparing to spread its wings. They’re seeking expressions of interest from would-be explorers in New Zealand, Australia and the UK who would like to trial the service. The trial involves using only your phone. No glasses or WiFi are part of the trial, and you’ll use your own cellular data. To compensate for that, you’re getting a good deal on the 200 minutes a month plan. So, if you would like to give Aira a try, I’d appreciate it if you’d sign up using our referral link. The referral program means that the person being referred, and the person who did the referring, each gets a free month. Pretty good marketing. To take Aira for a spin, activate my referral link - https://aira.io/plans?referral=304c2. I hope it makes as much of a difference to you as it has to Bonnie and me.”
Thank you to Jonathan Mosen for giving us permission to use his blog. And, as we said at the top, if you’d like to read the full blog please visit - http://mosen.org/aira/
Further to this blog, the good news is that the Aira is currently being trialled in the UK. If this trial is successful we could see it live by the end of the year.
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
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