In a remarkable development to help visually impaired people use their “smartphones as a second set of eyes,” NPR announces that the Rochester, N.Y.-based supermarket chain Wegmans is now offering the Aira (for “Artificial Intelligence” and “Remote Assistance”) service to its customers. Once customers download the Aira app, they are hooked up with a live operator who uses the smartphone camera to track the client’s journey through the grocery store and help them make purchases.
Aira vice president of sales and marketing Kevin Phelan explains to NPR, “It turns the front of the camera on and then the person can see what you see. The agents also have this really great dashboard that has all sorts of information like the Wegmans app, which is fully integrated into their view.” These agents are trained in orientation and mobility, to “help the blind person to navigate safely through an environment like a busy shopping center.”
NPR then followed shopper Gary Wagner as he used the app; his Aira agent helped him find a specific wing sauce and certain brand of granola bars. NPR reports: “Wagner was impressed.”
The Aira service is also available in some airports, restaurants, and college campuses, and is looking to expand. Sounds like a genius, helpful, and necessary innovation to us.