Aira is Helping the Blind and Visually Impaired Navigate the World

The high-tech company has teamed up with Microsoft and Moovit to make public transport more accessible for all.

21.11.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Aira
Photo by Aira

Aira, a high-tech startup helping the blind and visually impaired, has partnered up with Microsoft and Moovit to help people navigate their local public transit systems. 

The concept for Aira first emerged in 2015, when co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti befriended a blind communications professional. After discussing how Google Glass could be used to help the blind and visually impaired, Kanuganti decided to create a service to help this population “see the world.”

“We believe a loss of immediate access to visual information is the real challenge of blindness,” the company explains on its website. “As technologists and innovators, we are passionate about restoring that access to anyone, anytime wherever they need it. We enable our users to fully Engage, Explore and Experience the world.”

The company’s smart glasses are the first pair of glasses to be created to assist the visually impaired. Using augmented reality, the Aira Horizon Smart Glasses, part of the Aira Horizon Kit, are designed to live stream footage to trained, designated guides at the company, allowing them to provide audio instructions to the wearer. The glasses utilise a 120-degree wide-angle camera, so guides have a more complete view of the user’s surroundings.

Through its mobile app, Aira’s human guides can read signs, menus and more using the customer’s smartphone camera. Aira also offers an AI assistant named “Chloe” to help with tasks that do not require a human.

However, real-time navigation of cities still posed some challenges. While Aira’s guides could use Google Maps to assist users when getting around time, the service was limited in terms of accurate public transit information, and the guide needed to use other resources to adequately help the customer. As such, Aira has decided to team up transit app Moovit and Microsoft.

Using Microsoft’s Azure Maps, Aira guides can access full, multimodal transit planning and navigation alongside a view of what the customer is seeing in real time. This allows the guide to provide navigational support as well as confirm that the user is catching the correct bus or using the right entrance to the subway.

Moovit, in addition to providing an app to help people navigate a city, also offers a back-end mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platform that can feed into third-party applications via an API, as explained by Venture Beat. In 2018, Microsoft announced a partnership with Moovit based upon this API, and now, Aira will benefit from the API, as well. This partnership will help Aira guides to see everything needed to navigate public transit in real time, including arrival alerts, service alerts, nearby lines and stops, stop sequences and more.

“The belief that mobility is a basic human right for everyone is the motivation behind this partnership,” Moovit’s chief growth and marketing officer Yovav Meydad said in a statement. “Together, with Aira and Microsoft, we are aiming to make public transit more accessible and inclusive to blind and low vision riders. This will open opportunities for riders to travel more freely and independently, significantly impacting their life.”

The company will provide this full range of services in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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