(KMSP) - New technology has landed at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, and it is helping people with visual impairments navigate air travel on their own.
A San Diego-based startup called Aria launched its services at MSP on Wednesday, and Greg Stilson, the company’s Director of Product Management, was the first user. Stilson is almost entirely blind.
“A blind person, when they are typically going from point A to point B - that’s their goal - is to get to the destination. Aira puts the independence back in the user’s hands so they are able to go where they want to go, and they are able to make stops along the way. If something sounds interesting, go ahead and pause and check it out,” Stilson said.
The technology works through a pair of smart glasses. A small camera is attached to the side of the glasses, and through an app, users are connected by phone to live visual interpreters who see everything they cannot.
“I'm able to not only get to my destination, but understand what's around me, what I want to come back to,” Stilson said. “If I get stuck, let's say a flight gets canceled or something like that, what restaurants I can eat at or even where to use the restroom...it's just putting that independence back in my hands.”
Before using Aira, Stilson would have to rely on other people to help him navigate airports.
“I would have an airport staff member help me to, let's say, the Delta counter where I would get my boarding pass. Then I would need somebody to walk me to whatever destination I'm trying to get to,” Stilson said.
Aira users pay a monthly subscription fee starting at $89. The fee includes the glasses.
The service then costs $2 per minute, but the Metropolitan Airports Commission is covering the cost of minutes used at MSP.
“It's really about making the experience as accessible and as customer friendly for all travelers and especially those travelers with special needs,” said Metropolitan Airports Commission CEO Brian Ryks.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission has budgeted $5-thousand a year to cover Aira costs for users. Ryks says they can adjust that number if more people are interested in using the technology.