In the fall 2017 issue of Opportunity I reviewed the breakthrough real-time service offered by Aira Tech, a San Diego venture startup that aims to make life easier for people who are blind.
The Aira service pairs users who are blind or visually impaired with vetted, trained “visual interpreters” who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist with visual tasks, including identifying clothing colors, reading documents, navigation and wayfinding, and computer tasks such as helping translate inaccessible visual screen Captcha challenges.
Aira users, called “Explorers,” download the free Aira app to their smartphones and connect with a remote visual agent through their cameras and microphones in seconds. While the service does require a monthly no-contract subscription for extended use (which works out to around $1 minute), people without a subscription can access five minutes of use in every 24-hour period absolutely free.
When I met with Troy Otillio, Aira’s CEO, at the 2022 Disability: In Global Conference and Expo in July he was excited to tell me about Aira’s brand new product, Aira Everywhere. With Aira Everywhere, he explained, Aira Explorers can go beyond their smartphones and access Aira visual interpreters through new augmented reality (AR) glasses, a new mobile device, or right from their computers through the Aira Everywhere Desktop app.
Otillio said the new features are a product both of Aira’s desire to provide additional hardware options for more flexible access and its discovery that more than 20% of all Explorer requests involve computer-related tasks.
Still in beta at the time of this writing, Aira Everywhere will feature all new access through a new ARXVision headset (purchased separately), the Aira Classic 2 app for the tactile BlindShell mobile phone (purchased separately) and the Aira Everywhere Desktop app.
According to Aira’s press release, the company is announcing Aira Everywhere in response to demand for more devices and form factors that are optimized for the task at hand.
Since the Aira Everywhere Desktop app can be implemented by all Aira Explorers who use computers, this review is limited to the desktop feature which will likely benefit users who are blind or visually impaired the most within their workplaces.
So how does it work? Users download the Aira Desktop app to their computers and once launched, can connect with visual interpreters directly — no more frustrations using one hand to hold your smartphone camera up to the computer screen while trying to type with your other hand.
Aira says its Desktop app has “built-in, secure, and efficient screen sharing” but cautions that it cannot support remote access or screen control “due to important security limitations that prevent web apps from taking control of a desktop.”
With these new features, Aira users will be able to more efficiently manage both personal and work-related documentation, such as signing and uploading medical forms, or working with complex or accessible digital documents, without ever leaving the keyboard or touching their smartphones.
Since Aira Everywhere offers a new set of features, the company expects there may be an initial glitch or two while they integrate all three capabilities: the desktop app, the ARXVision headset, and the BlindShell phone app. As a result, user patience will be needed as Aira Everywhere is still brand new.
Technology reviews are written by Doug Goist, workforce development program manager at National Industries for the Blind and a recognized leader in the field of technology accessibility who has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, the military services, federal agencies, and private sector partners.