Aira: Empowering employment success for the blind through access to visual information via artificial intelligence and remote human agents.
Pitch us on your solution
Aira has evolved from a nascent idea into a "game changer" through disruptive technology that solves the problem facing the visually impaired: how to go beyond the white cane, guide dog and limited assistive devices to allow the blind immediate access to information on their own terms, enhancing independence, efficiency and productivity.
Aira integrates emerging technologies (artificial intelligence, augmented reality, smartphones) with its network of agents to provide blind users with on-demand access to information and assistance. At the touch of a button, users (wearing Aira smartglasses or with the Aira app on their phone) connect to agents, who can virtually see the blind person's point of view in real time through Aira's Artificial Intelligence-powered dashboard. Agents provide direct assistance to users in a myriad of daily activities, ranging from navigating busy streets, airports and college campuses, to job searches, work, and traveling the globe.
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What is the problem you are solving?
The blind & low vision community faces not just vision loss, but the inability to access the physical and digital information that they need (Jarry et al, 2017).This can lead to economic and personal difficulties, including lost productivity, low income, and missed opportunities in employment and education. In the visually impaired community (a population of 285 million people worldwide, including 23 million in the U.S.), up to 60% students entering college don't graduate, and 70% of adults remain unemployed.
Aira learned of these challenges from a blind professional, sparking our determination to launch our company in 2015. This application demonstrates how Aira is making inroads into breaking down employment barriers for the blind through unprecedented technology and services, coupled with results-oriented programs. This includes the Aira Employment Program that allows blind and low-vision job seekers and employees, at the touch of a button, to be connected to professional remote agents for real-time visual information, thereby enhancing users' efficiency and unlocking their potential. Our mission: To take the 70% unemployment rate to under 7%.
Who are you serving?
While innovation has traditionally come slow to the blind community, this population has a very high adoption rate of new effective assistive technologies. This is where Aira has an advantage in making a difference in scaling nationally and globally in enhancing employment for the blind.
--The visually impaired represent one the most impoverished populations in the world. In the U.S., many blind people live below the poverty line, with family income averaging less than $35,000 (American Foundation for the Blind, 2018).
--In 2013 alone, blindness and low-vision resulted in lost workplace productivity totaling $48.4 billion in the U.S. due to lower wages and reduced workforce participation (Prevent Blindness:Cost of Vision Problems).
--People who are blind or low-vision are frequently not considered hireable by employers (The Lead Center Policy Brief, 2015). This can negatively impact how the blind deal with the personal impact that unemployment can cause, including stress, lack of self-esteem, depression/ physical illness.
Our key global markets include these addressable groups:
-- Unemployed blind individuals, including Veterans
-- Visually impaired without financial access to assistive technology
-- Baby Boomers who've lost their vision in middle age
-- Students (Globally, more than 19 million).
What is your solution?
Aira's Employment Program https://aira.io/employment: Launched in 2018 as part of Aira's Do More Foundation, this program aims to significantly reduce the high rate of unemployment among the blind by giving them the tools to break the cycle of joblessness and overcome key barriers in the employment process. For visually impaired job seekers, the program provides remote assistance in everything from navigating employment websites, filling out applications, creating/building resumes, and prepping for job interviews.
After hiring, the program assists blind employees with a myriad of job tasks -- from reading and signing printed documents, to work-related meetings and travel.
Our 'free' nationwide geofenced Aira Access locations are also engaging the blind in the digital economy: Due to 70% unemployment, millions of blind users do not have the capacity to pay beyond basic necessities. Through Aira Access Networks https://aira.io/access-business, users -- including students and the unemployed -- can access Aira's remote assistance for free at the locations of partnering businesses. These include retailers like Walgreens, Target, AT&T; employers; supermarket chains like Wegmans, major universities, 50+ national/international airports, museums (e.g. Smithsonian); stadiums, and entire cities like Boston. Our partners, in turn, pay us for the Aira service minutes used by blind persons at their sites. Thus, a win-win situation is created: Users get free access to Aira; Aira gets paid by the partner, and the partner enjoys increased business patronage from blind community. The Site network continues to scale (current number of partnering locations stands at 25,000).
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Where is your solution team headquartered?San Diego, CA, USA
Our solution's stage of development:
Select one of the below:
New application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Aira provides innovative care in comparison to its competitors. Aira's competitors in assistive services are: (1) On-site care workers (costly by-the-hour/day); (2) Be My Eyes (free Facetime assistance with a volunteer); (3) Orcam ($4500 smartglass attachment for low-vision individuals, primarily used for reading text via optical character recognition).
A leader in AI technology, Aira's uniqueness over these solutions is best described by Aira user, Michael Hingson--blind bestselling NYT author and 9/11 survivor, who says: ¬®Until Aira, there is not one product that tied all existing information technologies together that we as blind persons need to help move toward full integration into society.¬®
Aira, with subscriber plans starting at $29 per month, connects users with a network of professionally trained agents who can assist in virtually any activity (unlike a volunteer on apps like Be My Eyes who might not be as comprehensively trained). Over 80% of users who experienced 30-minutes trial with Aira become paying subscribers.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
Aira's customer-engaging technologies were recognized by TIME Magazine when the publication named Aira among the "Best Inventions of 2018":
--Platform: Stand-out features: (1) Users' Smartglasses -- internet-connected, 7 hours of livestreaming capability (longest battery life in industry; Google Glasses run only 45 minutes of livestreaming); wide-angle camera, often considered one of the most comfortable smartglasses by our users. (2) Video feed from users to agents with <80 ms latency through AT&T's Dynamic Network Prioritization (first in industry) -- and even works in congested networks like crowded stadiums where other smartphones stop transmitting.
--AI: After hiring leading AI expertise from Microsoft Research, Aira and its AI system learned from over 3 million minutes of user-agent interaction, through which the system understands the call's intent, and routes it to the best agent with the necessary skill set -- making for productive, enjoyable calls on both sides, and reducing time-to-task completion.
--Expanding Aira's 'Free' Access Network Locations for Users. (See earlier description.)
-- Creating First Infrastructure-Free Solution to Indoor GPS Navigation: The lack of available GPS signal indoors has made indoor navigation an unsolved problem, including for the blind. Aira is solving this via "crowdsourcing mapping" using the blind user's phone. Aira's entire solution is scalable, cost-free and can provide a coordinate position for every object in the world, indoors or outdoors. Eg. https://www.dropbox.com/s/muo5...
--Moonshot projects: Our transformative projects include 'cloning the behavior of a sighted individual to better navigate and guide the blind, aka Virtual_Guide_Dog.
In which countries do you currently operate?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Since launched in 2018, the Aira Employment Program has seen 150+ blind users obtain their first-time jobs via our free job-seeking services, and is on track to assist hundreds more this year. https://go.aira.io/employment.
The following data reflect results from an email survey conducted this year by Aira with over 375 Aira users (covering 67,514 service minutes) in measuring how they used Aira with their agent for job-seeking activities. User completion rate of surveys averaged 88 percent.
--The majority of respondents (70%) said they used Aira for formatting (resumes and other documents); followed by submitting applications (over 62%) and navigating job websites (60%).
--Respondents reported that Aira agent assistance made completing 96% of tasks more efficient.
88% said Aira agents made them more efficient at every task in which they received assistance.
Aira agents made respondents "a lot more" efficient 85% of the time.
--68% said they started a new job or enhanced their career as a result of the Aira service.
--And 44% said they were unemployed before receiving assistance and starting their new job.
Another impact: Just like gym and insurance benefits, Aira services are becoming an employment benefit.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Goals for the coming year:
--Further increase business and user participation in Aira Access Networks resulting not only in increasing users' accessibility, productivity and spending power at the network's free business sites, but also in attracting more subscribers to Aira, and in turn, yielding more customers from the blind community for the partnering businesses and organizations.
--Expanding the impact and participation in the Aira Employment Program.
-- Remain on the cutting edge in AI and other technologies to better serve and expand our user base.
--To support growth, use gig economy model for scaling trained
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Our key risk has been primarily limiting the service to an early adopter audience which (due to their average unemployment rate of 70%) has traditionally had difficulty paying for personal subscription plans, including our original basic tier of $100 per month.
Other risks are business replicatablity, and maintaining our cutting edge in technology in a rapidly changing industry and environment. Thus we are making a large push to sustain and enhance our market leadership with branding and experience, and reinvesting in research. Our patent-pending dashboard and technical innovations on the hardware and software front have, to our advantage, led to large companies reusing our platform instead of them investing significantly in research efforts to redevelop something similar on their own.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
How we are mitigating possible risks:
* Introducing nationwide geofenced Aira Access Networks. These are location-based and task-based free access sites for blind users, paid by partners, and provide value for both.
* Reducing our starting subscription base plans to $29 per month from original $100. (And as service scales, the cost per service minute decreases, improving profitability.)
* Increasing partnerships with major blind associations, who act as our promoters among our target user base.
* Sustaining and growing our large network of influential and experienced advisors from technology, research, government and healthcare sectors.
* Adding experienced CXOs in our leadership who have previously led companies to success, including growing companies from two-digit to four-digit headcounts.
Select an option below:
How many people work on your solution team?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
The idea for starting Aira began in 2014 when Suman Kanuganti (now Aira CEO and Founder) struck up a friendship with blind professional, Matt Brock. This launched discussions on how Google Smart Glass technology could be used to help the blind become more independent, later inspiring Kanuganti to create the first technology prototypes for Aira.
The Aira Team:
- Suman Kanuganti, Founder / CEO--MS Engineering & MBA, Intuit, Qualcomm, Caterpillar
- Troy Otillio, COO--CSc, Intuit, Ariba, Documentum
- Carrie Mcqueen, CFO--BA Political Science & MBA, Startups, Private, Public and IPO
- Austin Marron, CPO--BS CS, Blizzard / Intuit
- Sujeeth Kanuganti, CTO--BS CS, Cisco / Tata
- Amy Bernal, VP of Customer Experience--MBA, Intuit
- Kevin Phelan, VP of Sales & Marketing--Communications, Northwestern
- Paul Schroeder, VP of Public Policy--Government/ lawmaking
- Anirudh Koul, Head of AI & Research--Microsoft Research, Founder of Seeing AI
Scientific Advisory Board Includes:
o Dean Kamen (Inventor: Segway, iBOT)
o Ray Kurzweil (Artificial Intelligence Visionary at Google)
o Joe Ronzio (Chief Health Technology Officer at Veteran Affairs)
o Oscar Salazar (Uber Co-founder, Guru of dispatch systems)
Blind User Advisory Board Includes:
o Mark Riccobono (President of NFB; most influential blind person in US)
o Kirk Adams (President of AFB; most known organization for employment)
o Erik Weihenmayer (First blind person to climb Everest)
o Christine Ha (The Blind Cook, winner of MasterChef)
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
The National Federation of the Blind (a non-profit), has invested in the growth of only two promising technologies in past 80 years--reading machines in 1970s (which led to the invention of scanner, optical character recognition, text-to-speech like Siri) and now, Aira
What is your business model?
Our Business Model is premised on the way we sell minutes for service in 3 categories:
1. Consumers: Similar to a cell phone plan, consumers pay a monthly fee for a certain amount of minutes. Monthly rates range from $29 to $200 per month.
2. Businesses: These are pre-paid "bricks" of minutes purchased by partnering businesses in our Aira Access Network (described earlier in this application).
3. Government: The Government represents one of the largest bases of potential users. We sell contracts to Government institutions to help enhance accessibility for their visually impaired staff and others on site. We've been approved by the VA and GSA to serve.
Why are you applying to Solve?
Prize funding from Solve and partners would be used to:
--Increase partnerships with employers, blind organizations, schools and others to help us identify blind and low vision job seekers who can benefit from Aira's free employment assistance.
--Intensify collaborations with colleges/universities in the U.S. and abroad to get an early start on working with blind and low-vision students there via Aira's Back to School Program to assist them toward college graduation success, and afterwards toward employment in their chosen field.