Aira Bolsters Ties With Blind Community and New Users at Vista Center Expo

Under the guidance of a remote Aira agent, a participant at the Vista Center Expo enjoys her first Aira experience. New users at the event were especially impressed with how easy Aira was to use and how clear and descriptive agents were in the assistance they rendered.

Expanding its depth of support for the blind community, Aira traveled to Santa Cruz, CA recently where it participated with enthused attendees at the annual Low Vision Expo sponsored by the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The experience not only gave Aira the opportunity to network with leading organizations serving the blind community in the Santa Cruz area, but also to exhibit and conduct live demonstrations of Aira technology and services with Expo goers.

After trying Aira for the first time, one visually impaired participant at the event, Stacie Grijalva, said,What I realized about Aira is that it can be used for most anything in my daily life — from finding something I dropped, to navigating obstacles, to reading menus at a restaurant, using public transportation, or even at work while I’m trying to be independent.”
Such comments reaffirm what Aira has heard from other trial users, says Mac Villarreal, Aira Director of User Engagement. “Aira’s interaction with attendees — including our 30 live demonstrations — was met with much enthusiasm, resulting in us signing up new users for Aira’s Explorer launch set for later this year,” he remarks.

Roberto Manduchi, Ph.D., a member of Aira’s Scientific Advisory Board and professor of Computer Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, and who spoke at the Expo, agrees: “I talked also with several people after they had tried the Aira device during the live demos, and they were simply enthusiastic.” Currently, he and his research group at UC Santa Cruz are involved in a collaborative project with Aira to explore how artificial intelligence can be used to make Aira’s visual interpretation capabilities even more robust and efficient.

Stacie Grijalva, wearing Aira smart glasses, participates in one of 30 live Aira demonstrations at the Expo. “Aira,” she says, “can be used for most anything in my daily life — from finding something I dropped, to helping me become more independent at work.” After the demos, she joined another Expo attendee, Patrice Maginnis, in signing up as an Aira Explorer.

The Vista Center, a noted facility serving the blind in northern California, is the premier resource for individuals with vision loss in San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties, serving approximately 2,500 clients and families each year. “We want to express to the staff of the Vista Center what a pleasure it was participating in the Expo and we look forward to supporting the Center’s work through further participation in the future,” says Mac.

Aira’s presence at the event complemented the goal of the Expo to inform attendees of exciting new technologies that stand to further enhance the independence of visually impaired people. Blind and low-vision participants who tried the Aira service were especially impressed by how easy it was to use, its comprehensiveness (a one-stop service that combines many elements of today’s assistive technologies), in addition to how clear and descriptive Aira Agents are in the information they provide.

“Blind people are frequently inundated with new technology and gadgets, and before you know it we’re just loaded down with stuff,” continues Stacie Grijalva. “But once I tried out Aira, I thought, ‘You know, this service is pretty cool.’”
Patrice Maginnis, another user at the Expo, adds: “I was surprised that in a very crowded room how clear and helpful the interaction was with the Aira agent. I immediately wanted to sign up because I realized how wonderful it would be to travel with my guide dog and to have someone available to direct me to specific locations. Also, during travel, there can often be obstructions and unexpected challenges, which the agent could explain to me on the spot.”

But it’s also the simple things about Aira that users like: “This includes my agent telling me what the temperature is outside,” says Patrice, “and describing my surroundings with descriptive little details, such as the leaves are already changing color. I’ve only been blind 5 years, and these are the kinds of details that I miss.”

Stacie and Patrice both signed up as Aira Explorers after the demonstrations, becoming part of the first 200 exclusive users who will launch Aira late this year, and help make the service even better as it rolls out.