Smartphones - and increasingly smart glasses - have made it possible for blind and visually impaired people to instantly benefit from someone else's eyes and intelligence. Let's look at two top solutions in this space.
AIRA: iOS and Android
The first solution we're going to look at is AIRA. Shortlisted in the mobile accessibility and innovation category in the 2019 GloMo Awards and now available in the UK, AIRA uses the camera on your smartphone - or built into a pair of smart glasses - to bring assistance to people who need to borrow a pair of eyes and someone's trained support at those crucial times when they need that little extra help. Let's see it in action in this short video.
As we see in the video, there are many instances where the combination of a remote pair of eyes and efficient, informed support can make life easier for those with little or no vision. For example:
- having those remote eyes look around and tell you where you are
- having your agent use Google Maps and their training to guide you from where you are to where you need to go via the best and safest route
- having the built-in software provide audible chimes to count you down to the next intersection as you walk (with additional verbal guidance from your agent if required)
- help to find that illusive pedestrian crossing button
- help to find and then read airport or train station departure screens (or have the agent look up the data online)
- help in guiding you to the right platform and onto the train and finally to a free seat,
- having the agent look up the Facebook profile of a colleague to ensure that they can then help you recognise them in the crowded foyer prior to that important meeting.
The ability to use the service hands-free with smart glasses and not have to hold your phone in front of you also makes for easier and less socially-awkward interactions - particularly when the assistance you need is longer than a few seconds or a few minutes.
In a recent article I wrote about three cool smart glasses to help people who are blind or have sight loss we can see the AIRA solution among them – and it most certainly earns its place in this list.
The service isn't free. Monthly price plans start at around £89 for 100 minutes of assistance. This includes the smart glasses, insurance and training on how to use them.
Be My Eyes: iOS and Android
Be My Eyes was a winner at the Tech4Good Awards 2018. Like AIRA, this free app uses the phone's camera to quickly connect with willing helpers and get sighted assistance with everyday tasks.
Be My Eyes, however, differs in two very significant ways; it's free (so no monthly subscriptions) which is an obvious plus in its favour, but on the flipside the people you connect with aren't paid professionals with the panoply of digital backup services that we've seen in action above - they're willing and often very able to help but don't expect to keep them on the line for a long session of in-depth assistance.
Not yet with smart glasses support, this app is really meant for shorter (but hugely helpful) snatches of assistance at the tap of a virtual button. Be My Eyes is absolutely perfect for those moments when your computer has stopped talking to you, when you need to know if the dishwasher has finished its cycle (flood anyone?), when you're out and about and wondering where that postbox, doorway or doughnut stand is, or when you need to use that ATM and would rather a stranger across the internet helped you with the buttons than a stranger in the queue who could easily then stroll off with your money.