Belinda Lane slipped on a Google Glass headset, put her white cane in her right hand and started walking.
Lane, who is blind, was testing an app called Aira that uses the Glass headset to help blind people navigate their surroundings.
While Lane walked the grounds of an Austin festival called White Cane Day a woman named Connie spoke into her Aira earbud.
Connie could see what Lane’s Glass camera sees through a Bluetooth connection and that allowed her to give Lane step-by-step directions as well as in-depth descriptions of the scenery.
Aira is a nearly 2-year-old San Diego, Calif., tech startup that wants to change the way blind people navigate the world. They do this by syncing a camera, usually worn on a user’s face through a headset, to a smartphone app.
The company, which has raised $15.3 million so far, says the navigational help is not intended to replace other navigational devices, such as a cane or a guide dog. Their software is supposed to supplement these mobility tools.
“We are not a replacement for mobility,” said Amy Bernal, the vice president of customer experience for Aira, adding their software should be used as an “information tool.”
For instance, one Aira user subscribes just so she can read a book to her young child every night.
After her 15-minute demonstration was complete, Lane praised Aira for its versatility. “I could see how it would be very useful,” she said.
For instance, she said when she travels at the airport you can get stuck at your gate because getting up to find food or a shop can be cumbersome. But with the help of an Aira guide, she said you could shop and travel with more ease.
That’s in part because Aira’s software allows guides to take photos of what they are seeing and zoom in. While Lane was traveling around the grounds of White Can Day, Connie was able to read to her a list of ice cream flavors at a faraway Amy’s Ice Creams booth.
Even simple things, Lane said, like reading the thermostat in a hotel room or using the TV would be easier with Aira, she said.
The company charges anywhere from $89 a month to $329 a month depending on usage. They also ship the hardware to you, so you don’t have to invest in your own Google Glass headset or similar hardware.
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