MBTA program uses AI to deliver info to blind, low-vision users

Posted on May 6, 2019

Aira connects blind or low-vision users with highly trained sighted agents who provide visual information about the user’s surrounding environment.
Aira connects blind or low-vision users with highly trained sighted agents who provide visual information about the user’s surrounding environment.Aira

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced the launch of a pilot program that will use artificial intelligence to connect blind or low-vision users with sighted agents providing information via smartphone video technology.

The free six-month accessibility technology pilot called AccessAI features human artificial intelligence (human AI) technology from Aira, a California-based tech startup.

Aira connects blind or low-vision users with highly trained sighted agents who provide visual information about the user’s surrounding environment — live and on-demand through smartphone video technology. During the six-month pilot that began on May 1, the Aira smartphone app, powered by AT&T, will be free to users throughout the MBTA system at all bus stops, subway stations, Commuter Rail stations, and ferry routes.

“Technology is enhancing transit infrastructure. This pilot program gives us the opportunity to unite people, technology, and mobility in ways that have never been tried before. I want to see how far we can go with this,” said Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director and Aira Explorer Sassy Outwater-Wright.

Aira’s visual interpreter service will be available to users for free throughout the MBTA’s subway, bus, ferry, and commuter rail systems during the six-month pilot through October 31, 2019. The MBTA will also educate the public about the availability of this service through targeted marketing to the MBTA’s Blind Access CharlieCard users and The RIDE’s blind or low vision users as well as through community engagement with local blind and low vision advocate groups. The pilot comes at no cost to the MBTA.

During the six-month pilot, users will be regularly surveyed on the app’s impacts with data that is gathered available to both the MBTA and Aira, and analyzed upon completion of the pilot. Next steps following the pilot will be determined after this data is gathered and analyzed following the pilot’s conclusion.

Used previously at places including the Perkins School for the Blind and Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), free access to Aira is also available at Massport’s Boston Logan International Airport and Worcester Regional Airport. Additional Aira Access locations can be found here.

MBTA customers interested in accessing Aira while within the MBTA system can visit the MBTA website and for more information, downloading the Aira smartphone app, and signing up for training sessions offered by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. More information can also be found by connecting with the T on Twitter @MBTA or Aira @airaio.

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