Smart glasses give remote sight to blind people

21st June 2018
Alex Lynn

A new technology service has emerged which has the power to give blind or visually impaired people the ability to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without having to worry about relying on a friend or family member to help. 

Aira is a service technology that can be downloaded as an app onto your smartphone, which then, combined with a pair of custom Horizon smart glasses will connect you to an Aira agent who then acts as the eyes. This kit allows you to communicate freely with your agent, while the camera in the glasses provides a 120° wide angle visual feed to the agent, enabling the agent to not only guide the wearer, but also describe what they are seeing. This allows blind or partially sighted people to do anything form read the use-by date on their milk, to opening up new opportunities to forge out and going freely to new places alone.

Stephanie Hurd, who uses the Aira app and technology, has said: “A cane is an object detector. A dog is an object avoider. But neither can tell me what the object is. Aira can tell me that and more.” Which gives and insight into the kind of freedom Aira can afford blind and visually impaired people, not just in terms of getting around, but also by describing what actually is around.

Aira works on a subscription basis, ranging from $89 for the basic package to $329 for the premium package, it is, therefore, a fairly expensive service to sign up for. The basic package includes glasses, data, insurance for the hardware, a training session, access to agents even during the night and 100 minutes. Whereas the premium package comes with unlimited minutes.

Erin Sanborn, an Aira Agent, commented that: “The simple tasks mean the most, so pulling the expiration dates on the yogurt in the fridge, to really serious things like describing a daughter’s wedding or father’s funeral. How the room was set up and what the flowers looked like. The ceremony was beautiful and to give him access to that information, that he typically doesn’t have, was sad but empowering.”

Gary O’Donaghue tested the technology and was able to complete a walk which he had done many times in his life, but never on his own. He stated that: “There’s no doubt that being able to do even small things at the time of your choosing feels great. But it’s still expensive and of course there’s the huge, looming question of privacy.”

The pros and cons of the service are clear. Aira allows blind or partially sighted people to do things on their own that they would usually have to rely on the help of a sighted person for, as well as receiving descriptions of the things around them. However, the service is expensive and harbours a number of personal privacy concerns, for example, if you used Aira regularly, you would have to come to terms with the Aira agents, essentially strangers, potentially getting to know personal information that they would simply pick up from helping you through your world, such as your address and even bank details, if you used the app to assist you in that aspect of life.

The service is currently available in the US, Canada and Australia and has plans to expand into the UK market.

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