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Podcast With A Blindness Perspective.

Nov 17, 2018

show Summary:

(Full Transcript Below)

Greg Stilson, Director of Product Management at Aira, joins Pete and Jeff in the Blind Abilities studio and talks about the new plans and opportunities available to everyone. From the Guest plan, where anyone downloading the Aira App, can use the Aira Access at a growing number of sites in the Aira Access Network. To the Intro plan, where you can get 30 minutes a month for $29 a month. And the Standard plan, which I like myself, you get 120 minutes for $99 per month. And if you want the Horizon Kit, it will be $124 per month as the $600 Horizon Kit is divided up over a 2-year period. The advance Plan gives you 300 minutes per month for $199 and $224 respectively if you want the Horizon Kit acvantage.

Join Greg, Pete and Jeff in this informative cast and learn about all the new Aira Access points and opportunities created by the Aira team. Seems like the value keeps growing and growing as their team and recognition keeps growing as well. Hear about the latest news and the Time Magazine recognition for Ara being one of the best 50 inventions in 2018.

You can find out more about Aira on the web at www.Aira.io

 

Thank you for listening!
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Full Transcript:

Aira Director of Product Management, Greg Stilson, Broadens the Horizon on New Aira Access and Plans

Greg Stilson:
It's a testament to our Explorers as well, right? I mean the product wouldn't be where it is today without the great and constant feedback that we get from our Explorers.

Jeff Thompson:

Aira, your life, your schedule right now.

Greg Stilson:
We're so excited to have our Intro Plan. That's $29 a month, 30 minutes a month.

Jeff Thompson:

Greg Stilson, Director of Product Management at Aira.

Greg Stilson:
Almost 10,000 Walgreens in the U.S. now are Aira Access locations. The most exciting option, which is our Aira guest program, and that is that you don't even have to be a subscriber of Aira to use the service.

Jeff Thompson:

Checkout Aira on the web at aira.io.

Greg Stilson:
We are now on the GSA Schedule for federal government. If you a federal employee, you can get Aira purchased as an accommodation from your employer. If you're a veteran, any VA can purchase the product.

Jeff Thompson:

For more Podcasts with a Blindness Perspective, check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on Twitter @BlindAbilities, and download the free Blind Abilities app from the App Store and the Google Play Store. That's two words, Blind Abilities.

Jeff Thompson:
Are you done for the year, Greg?

Greg Stilson:
No. No, we're not done for the year. Not at all.

Jeff Thompson:
You guys are open?

Greg Stilson:
24/7 baby. 24/7

Jeff Thompson:
There we go. Welcome to Blind Abilities, I'm Jeff Thompson. Today we're talking about a company that's been around for a little over three years, but it seems like they got something new all the time. Time Magazine 2018, one of The 50 Best Inventions of 2018, and that's Aira. Today we're going to Greg Stilson coming on and talk about their Horizon product, their pricing, and what Aira is today. It's evolved and I agree with Time Magazine, it is a new invention for 2018 because it's changed so much. With me today is Pete Lane. How you doing, Pete?

Pete Lane:
I'm great, Jeffrey. It's been awhile. How you been doing?

Jeff Thompson:
Really good. You are an Aira Explorer yourself.

Pete Lane:
I am. I'm coming up on my two year anniversary in December of this year. I joined as an Aira Explorer in December of 2016. So yeah, a long time. One of the early ones, not one of the original ones, but a long time Explorer.

Jeff Thompson:
Well, we've been covering Aira for it seems like three years when we first talked to Suman.

Pete Lane:
Yeah. It was right after NFP Convention in 2016 when we interviewed Suman. Yeah.

Jeff Thompson:
Back then when you first came onboard with Aira, tell us about the configuration, the form factor that they used?

Pete Lane:
Well, Aira, which has evolved big time since then, originally started with the use of your smartphone kind of as a controlling unit that would either be the iPhone or the Android. I think they had both the iPhone and the Android from the get-go, but their original glasses was a wireless glass called Google Glass. Now that Google Glass had been around for about three or four years prior to the time that Aira actually incorporated it into their configuration, but Google Glass was a technological kind of anomaly when Google introduced it back in probably 2012, maybe 2013, but it was a wireless connection that connected to your smartphone. Essentially it was the same basic configuration.

Pete Lane:
You would tap on the Aira app in your smartphone, connect to an agent, and then the wireless connection would bring in the Google Glass and the agent would have access to the video camera on board on the Google Glass. Now since then, they've evolved even further. They developed a second kind of a form factor of their glasses, which was called Austria. It was a little bit more technologically advanced, but it was a still wireless solution. It's a little lighter weight, maybe a little bit more appealing as far as the aesthetics go. The Google Glass, if anybody has seen it, was clearly a tech device.

Pete Lane:
Everything about it looked tech. It was kind of heavy. Had no lenses and kind of odd. It was noticeable when people would wear it. The Austria Glasses evolved a little bit. Had the lenses on there and looked a little bit more like a seamless pair of sunglasses. But then most recently back at the beginning of May, Aira introduced their current configuration, which is the Horizon Kit. The Horizon Kit is now a wired solution, but it actually incorporates the use of a separate controlling unit, which is the Samsung J7 Android phone, which is a dedicated phone equipped with all of the Aira configuration. It's tethered to the Horizon Glasses through actually a very hardy, braided, heavy-duty cable.

Pete Lane:
Not heavy in terms of weight, but durable. It provides for a much more stable and reliable connection.

Jeff Thompson:
Right. If I may, when we did the Super Bowl with Greg-

Pete Lane:
Right.

Jeff Thompson:
... where we did the podcast before and after, little did people know that he was actually testing the Horizon format that is being used today.

Pete Lane:
That's actually correct. As a matter of fact, Jeffrey, you may recall my son Patrick and I traveled to Dallas where we had the opportunity to watch a Cowboys game with Emmitt Smith serving as the agent for the game. I was testing those same glasses at that point. That was in October of 2017 I believe. Yeah.

Jeff Thompson:
That glass actually adds to the agent's use a wide angle lens so they can cover more, like a 120 degrees I believe, of what the Explorer is looking at. Now they have a bigger picture. They can see more. They can take in more and give you more feedback of what is in front of you.

Pete Lane:
Right. Right. Plus, the quality of the ... I don't know if it's a pixel count, but the quality of the video feed is considerably better than the older glasses.

Jeff Thompson:
Yeah, and without being tethered.

Pete Lane:
Right.

Jeff Thompson:
Always improving. Here in the Blind Abilities studio today to talk about the new opportunities and improvements and plans that they've created at Aira is Greg Stilson. How you doing, Greg?

Greg Stilson:
Good, Jeff. How are you?

Jeff Thompson:
Great. Pete Lane's with us too.

Pete Lane:
Hey, Greg, how are you?

Greg Stilson:
Great, Pete. Thanks for having me on, guys.

Pete Lane:
It's been a while. We haven't spoken with you since post Super Bowl back in February.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah, it's coming up again.

Jeff Thompson:
There we go. We won't mention The Packers or The Vikings this time.

Pete Lane:
Or The Jags. Yeah.

Jeff Thompson:
Or The Jaguars. Yeah.

Greg Stilson:
Or The Jags. Yeah. All three of our teams are not exactly tearing the cover off the ball here.

Pete Lane:
Mm-hmm (negative).

Jeff Thompson:
But you guys seem to be tearing the cover off Time Magazine. I just saw that 2018, Aira, one of The Top 50 Best Inventions of 2018. Congratulations.

Greg Stilson:
Hey, man. Thank you. It was a surprise and a tremendous honor for us. I was involved in sort of the representation of Aira working with a few of our other team members when we were talking with Time Magazine. It was one of those things where we were nominated and we're like, "All right. Well, we'll do this. That's great." I mean it's an honor just to be nominated in the first place, and then to actually have won it and to be named as one of the top inventions is just a tremendous honor for us.

Jeff Thompson:
I've been calling my friend saying, "I know this guy. I know this guy."

Greg Stilson:
Well, then it's one of those things is it's a testament to our Explorers as well, right? I mean the product wouldn't be where it is today without the great and constant feedback that we get from our Explorers. I mean this honor is as much yours as it is ours because you guys have helped make the product what it is. Just to be recognized as a company that is doing the things that we're doing and helping the people that we are is really awesome, especially from a mainstream magazine like Time.

Jeff Thompson:
Exactly. Very mainstream there.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Jeff Thompson:
I think that's one of the biggest crossovers that's been happening over the last years. You got the attention from AT&T. You got the attention from Time Magazine. Because all your agents are sighted, so you're bridging the gap between the sighted world and the blind community.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah, and I think it's also just in general regardless of the community that we're working with. It's a really awesome blending of human and technology, right? But we're doing something that hasn't really been done in this capacity before in that we have really highly trained agents working with really high technology. Smart glasses and AI and dashboard all blending into one solution that just works and it works to really change people's live and benefit people's lives. In addition to being a service that works as well as it does, it's an easy and awesome story to tell the mainstream so that they can see that this is a solution that is beneficial to everyone.

Jeff Thompson:
Greg, we've been following Aira for well over since 2016, somewhere around there, and all the advances they have been making. Can you give some of our listeners who may not be as familiar what is the Aira package?

Greg Stilson:
Absolutely, yeah. The Aira package, man, it's funny you mentioned that you've been following it since 2016. I've been with this company ... It'll be coming up on a year now. Just to see the way the company has evolved in a year, let alone two to three years since you guys have been following, is crazy. The company started out strictly as a smart glass option. In order to use the service, you had to have a pair of smart glasses. You had to have it connected to your app on your phone via a MiFi, and that was really way that you could use it. Today, when you look at the way that it's used today, it's used in so many different capacities.

Greg Stilson:
I mean we still are a smart glass company, so we designed our own Horizon Smart Glasses that can be added to any package or any service plan that you want to get. But in addition now, we have just the service only options, which are to be able to use the app just on your smartphone using the smartphone camera as the video source. We've simplified sort of our plans and things like that. The plans are now real simple. We're so excited to have a low entry point plan, which we call our Intro Plan. That's $29 a month, 30 minutes a month, that you can use with your smartphone.

Greg Stilson:
That's really to get a taste of the service, to start using it, see how it fits into your life and see if a higher tier plan is something that's going to benefit you. Then we have what we call our Standard Plan, which is the plan that we're really excited about because it covers ... Based on the data that we've collected, it covers the highest population of our users and that's $99 a month for 120 minutes. That's service only plan, but you can add the Horizon Glasses to that if you feel that the hands-free option would benefit you. Those Horizon Glasses can be added for either rent to own for $25 a month or you can buy them outright for $600 right off the bat if you want to.

Greg Stilson:
Then we have our Advanced Plan, which is $199 for 300 minutes a month, and then you also the option of adding the Horizon Glasses to that as well. The biggest thing that I think has changed over the years is that we started out as sort of a subscription option. Today, that is so far from the limits of what you can do. We started at the end of last year I want to say, maybe even earlier than that, offering this concept of Aira Access. Aira Access is a way for businesses to offer Aira as an accommodation to their locations or their products or their services for those who are blind and low vision.

Greg Stilson:
What is really cool about this is it's a way to offer Aira to more people and it's also a way if you are a subscriber for your minutes to go further. For example, the whole Aira Access journey started with airports. Airports are traditionally one of the most challenging places for a blind person. Not just a blind person, but anybody to get around. We started out getting a lot of interest from airports as an accommodation to the blind and low vision passengers because not only did it allow them to get to their gates and things like that much easier, but it actually allows a blind person ... I'm living proof of this. I'd spent a year pretty much traveling the last year only with Aira in airports.

Greg Stilson:
It really makes a blind person a real patron of an airport. If I wanted to go get a bite to eat or something to drink or go shopping or find a restroom, I could do that on my own, whereas before you would either need to ask somebody for help, try to get somebody to escort you to those locations, or just try to find constant directions that may or may not be correct. Today, we have over 35 airports now that are Aira Access locations. Jeff, Minneapolis, St. Paul is obviously one of the first ones that we signed up.

Jeff Thompson:
Yeah. I want to thank you for that because now I sit with the bags while my wife goes voyages around getting food, coming back. Thanks, Aira.

Greg Stilson:
Anyway that we can help, Jeff. Anyway. That's really where the Aira Access journey started, but the Aira Access journey kind of exploded from there. We signed up the Wegmans grocery store chain I think it was a couple months ago now. It's a grocery store chain of almost a hundred grocery stores in the northeast. Just this week we announced our largest partnership, which was Walgreens. Almost 10,000 Walgreens in the U.S. now are Aira Access locations. If you need to just go fill a prescription or just go buy something for the holidays or whatever, you walk in to any of these Walgreen stores and you'll get a notification on your phone that says that this is an Aira Access location and all usage is free.

Pete Lane:
Yeah, that's huge.

Greg Stilson:
Sponsored by Walgreens.

Jeff Thompson:
Wow.

Greg Stilson:
Really where you look at the benefit is yes, if you are a subscriber, now your minutes go further because you're not using your own minutes in these locations, but then we also created what I think is the most exciting option, which is our Aira Guest program. That is that you don't even have to be a subscriber of Aira to use the service. If you download the app, we have a button there that says sign in as a guest. You just give us your phone number and your email address and you instantly are signed in as a guest. When you sign in as a guest, you can use the service in any Aira Access location, any airport, any Walgreens, any AT&T stores.

Greg Stilson:
We have almost 5,500 AT&T stores now that are live, and you can also, if you're signed in a guest, use what we call the Aira Access products and promotions. The last thing I'll comment on. It's a long-winded way of saying what are our packages, but there's a lot of different ways that you can use Aira. The last way that I'll say is using our partnerships with companies who are supporting us by offering Aira as a service to support their products or their promotions. We partnered with Intuit QuickBooks to support any blind person who is a small business owner or contractor who really works in their own small business.

Greg Stilson:
Anything that you're doing related to your small business, you can sign in as a guest and there's a button on the bottom of the app that says "call Aira with an offer" and you can choose one of the offers, being the small business offer. If the agent verifies that you're going to be doing something related to your small business, those minutes will be sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks so you don't need to even be in a location now to make a free call as long as you're doing something related to your small business. That could be scanning receipts. That could be filling out an expense report. That could be picking out paint for your office, your home office, if it wants to be.

Jeff Thompson:
Greg?

Greg Stilson:
Yeah?

Jeff Thompson:
Could you tell our listeners what Intuit is exactly? I know QuickBooks. It's business management software. Plus, they do a lot more.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah, they do a lot. Intuit is the company that really created TurboTax is really what their claim to fame is. QuickBooks and business management software, any of that, their big promotion here is to help the employment of blind people. They want to make sure that blind people ... We always talk about the really high unemployment rate and things like that. This is a way that they can help the employment rate of bling people is providing Aira as an accommodation to supporting their small business. As I said, any task related to your small business.

Greg Stilson:
If you choose the Intuit small business offer, there's a text box right in the app that says that you can inform the agent on what you're doing. At that point when you call, the agent will actually get a notice on their dashboard that this is what this person wants to do. If you even explain in your note to the agent that, "Hey, I'm doing an expense report for my business," you know, that's already validated and away you go. You don't even have to be an Aira subscriber. You can sign in as a guest and just use it right off the bat. Then the last one I want to mention is our partnership with Vispero.

Greg Stilson:
If you're a JAWS user, a ZoomText user and something isn't acting right with your software, let's say that JAWS isn't speaking or there's a window that blocking JAWS from being able to do what it needs to do, you can actually call in to Aira for free, sponsored by Vispero, and get a sense of visually of what's going on the screen. The agent even have the capability ... A lot of people don't know this, but agents actually have the capability to remote into your computer, with your permission, and actually close the window that maybe causing the problem or shut down the program that could be causing issues, or maybe it's just as simple as restarting JAWS.

Greg Stilson:
Even though you can do that with some commands and things like that, maybe the JAWS application isn't restarting for whatever reason. Well, the agent can actually manually do that with the mouse by remoting in. Just so many various offers that are available to really get a taste of Aira, to compliment your minutes so that your minutes will go further, and then try it out as a guest.

Pete Lane:
Greg, I wanted to amplify a little bit that the TeamViewer or Zoom connectivity feature where you just spoke about agents being able to remote into your computer, I've used that several times. Not just on clogging something that's not working with the computer, but actually going into online websites, things like that, assisting me with purchasing items. They can actually use your credentials, and of course, they're a very trusted secure agents. It's a really good feature.

Greg Stilson:
It's something that I think is not widely known, but it's a really powerful thing. Especially when you think of the amount of unfortunately still inaccessible web content that's out there, there's a lot of thing ... I'll give you one example. We have a lot of users who go on and use Airbnb. Agents will actually do descriptions of what the photos of the Airbnb location looks like. Unfortunately, those photos don't have the most robust descriptions attached to them, so using an agent in that capacity to understand how the Airbnb looks, what amenities do you see in the picture. Because something written in text can look very different than what it is in a photo.

Greg Stilson:
Just getting that level of explanation on a website that doesn't always have the most robust description of their photos.

Pete Lane:
Greg, another development that Aira announced just this week as well is Sendero. They've actually signed over access to the Sendero GPS technology to Aira and Mike May has joined the Aira team. Talk a little bit about that.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah, this one is really exciting to me. I've been a user of Sendero's GPS technology for a long, long time. Probably since 2002-2003. I remember using it on my BrailleNote Classic.

Pete Lane:
Yeah.

Greg Stilson:
I remember the feeling that I had when I first used Sendero, which was when I did that point of interest search to be able to hear all the places around me. Just completely opened my eyes to information that I never had before. GPS has become significantly mainstream now with Google Maps and Waze and Apple Maps and everything else in the iPhone. There's a ton of GPS apps for the blind to really cater to the way that a blind person travels. One of the things that we wanted to look into is what solutions are we looking to really build into AI to compliment our agents. GPS navigation is the obvious one, right? We have Explorers today using agents in conjunction with this app, with the Sendero Seeing Eye navigation app.

Greg Stilson:
We said, "Well, that makes total sense because you're getting automated directions and then if you need to call an agent later on, you can." Because remember, GPS doesn't get you to the door. It just gets you close to your destination, right? A lot of people refer to it as the last 50 feet, right? It'll say, "Hey, you've arrived at your destination." Now how do you actually find the entrance to the door? How do you find the entrance of the building that you're looking for? Sometimes those entrances are very different than where your GPS says that you've arrived. What's always then sort of our dream is to make this beautiful synergy between autonomous GPS and sort of the human-in-the-loop type of assistance.

Greg Stilson:
That's really where Sendero came in. Sendero on top of being one of the most trusted GPS names in the industry, I've always heard it called The Cadillac of GPS. It's almost been the most robust information source from a GPS that I've ever seen for blind people, but on top of that, what they do is they have different than several of the other GPS apps that were out there for blind people, they have their own routing engine that they use. You can within the same app use their routing engine to get you from point A to point B, getting turn by turn directions, whereas a lot of the other apps would ask you to leave that app and go into Google Maps or go into Apple Maps and use their routing engine.

Greg Stilson:
The difference there is that their routing engines in those other apps aren't designed for a blind pedestrian. That's really what really attracted us so much to the Sendero solution is Sendero provides some of the robust descriptions of intersections and directions as you're walking. It's very verbose and it gives you very clear pedestrian instructions. For a blind person, the pedestrian side is the most important. That combined with just the amount of information and things like that. What we've acquired from Sendero and we're still retaining much of the Sendero staff, their software developers during this transition period to make sure that we're keeping the apps updated.

Greg Stilson:
But most importantly, if you are an owner of the Seeing Eye GPS or the RNIB Navigator or the Guide Dogs GPS in Australia, nothing changes right now. Those apps will continue to be updated. Aira and the Sendero developers are working together to update these apps. We already have a feature list from Sendero of the most requested features from the users. Most importantly, I want to say nothing is going to change right now. At this point, just expect that those apps ... Actually we have update pending here that's going to be released relatively shortly that I've been working on with the team. Most importantly, nothing is going to change with your apps today. That's something that we want to make sure nobody is concerned about.

Greg Stilson:
Going forward, a lot of people asked me what are we going to be using this for. In my view, this directly impacts our AI offering with Chloe. To be able to take what Mike and the team over at Sendero have done and to be able to add that in with today's sort of modern Google-oriented GPS technology, if we can sort of blend all of that into an AI solution that is sort of synergistic with the human-in-a-loop offering, it's going to be a pretty darn good solution for somebody who's navigating. We have people walking for 20-25 minutes with agents at time. If you can do the majority of your route with an autonomous GPS and maybe you only need the agent for the final 50 feet or the last step, maybe that's a better solution for you.

Jeff Thompson:
You know, when you take Mike May, Anirudh Koul, your team with Chloe, I can only imagine what's around the corner for everyone.

Greg Stilson:
We're pretty excited. It's a really fun time to be looking at the future of Aira. Especially with Aira Access and with the offerings, there's a lot of potential with indoor navigation. There's a lot of potential with AI object and facial recognition and all that kind of stuff that's out there. But for us, I wanted to start with sort of the basics. The basics were that we were definitely missing a straight up, really high reliability GPS navigation tool. To be able to have that built into Aira down the road is something that I think everybody can be really excited about.

Jeff Thompson:
Well, that's really neat because I remember when Mike May first started in 1993. With all that experience coming into Aira now, as I mentioned Anirudh Koul with the Seeing AI, the developer of that, coming into Aira, it just seems like you're still growing.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah.

Jeff Thompson:
You're still a new kid on the block in a sense. It's very interesting times.

Greg Stilson:
I can't speak for Anirudh, but the fact that he wanted to join Aira I think speaks very highly of our CEO and the vision that we have. Anirudh I'm assuming saw a significant potential here. It's exciting. It's a really fun place to be. I was talking to my wife last night and we were kind of just talking about the Time Magazine. Then I stopped for a second. I looked at the things that we've accomplished this week. This week. We launched 10,000 Walgreens stores in partnership. We did a technology transfer of Sendero GPS. We were named one of the Top 50 Inventions of the Year in 2018, and then we also launched AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, as another sight access location.

Greg Stilson:
That's a pretty good month for some companies, so for us to do that in a week ... She said, "Why do you seem so tired?" I said that's it. It's been a week.

Jeff Thompson:
Are you done for the year, Greg?

Greg Stilson:
No. No, we're not done for the year.

Jeff Thompson:
Okay.

Greg Stilson:
Not at all. Not at all, but it's one of these things where it's fast-paced and it's exciting, but this is all really awesome stuff that's going to benefit a lot of people. If you think about the amount of people that shop at Walgreens, just to get their prescriptions filled or just to buy one or two things, and to not need to always go up to the counter and pull somebody away from the register to go help you or to wait in line to find somebody to help you, now you can just walk in with your phone as a guest or if you have a glasses as an Explorer and just walk around. That is super, super empowering.

Jeff Thompson:
Just to add to that, or the people who waited in the car because why walk in sometimes. Now they can go in and explore.

Greg Stilson:
Exactly. I love what you say there, Jeff, because I can't tell you the number of times I've gone shopping with sighted people and you just choose to wait in the car while they go buy something.

Jeff Thompson:
Exactly.

Greg Stilson:
There's so much out there that you can learn and just to be able to walk in not worry about how many minutes you're taking or anything like that, just go in and explore and see what's on sale or see maybe there's a new beverage or food that they have that you didn't even know existed. While somebody else is shopping for something that they want, you can actually be exploring as well. That's something that is really, really exciting.

Jeff Thompson:
Why shouldn't you be able to walk out of the store and say, "I went in there to spend 10 bucks and I come out spending 30."

Pete Lane:
Exactly. I don't want to beat this dead horse, but the guest account is huge, Greg. Anybody listening to this podcast who is not an Aira subscriber can download the free Aira app, create a free, free, free guest account, and walk in and use their smartphone camera and do everything we're talking about. It's incredible.

Greg Stilson:
It is. It doesn't hurt to leave that app even on your phone because the reality is that we're adding ... I mean we're adding new access locations on a weekly to biweekly basis. If there's not a place near you right now, there most likely will be soon. The reality is that we're looking at not just one-off locations like this airport and that airport, but as you see with Walgreens, big chains that are global or national, where they're going to be everywhere. That's one of the most exciting things about Walgreens is it's the first chain, that and AT&T, are the first chains that are pretty much everywhere in the U.S., that you can go everywhere and find a Walgreens or an AT&T store.

Pete Lane:
And Wegmans groceries, while it's not nationwide, it covers a great geographical area up in the northeast in the Eastern seaboard. Over a hundred stores.

Greg Stilson:
Exactly. Just having the app on your phone, having signed in as a guest one time, it doesn't hurt to leave it on there. I don't even know how many megabytes, but it's not that many. What that means is that when you walk into one of these locations, it will just notify you that, "Hey, you're entering an Aira Access location." Now we have a searching capability where you can search. If you go to the more tab of the app, you can actually search for where Aira Access locations are. If you ever are in a location that you want to figure out, you can contact one of our agents as well and they can even do the search right on their dashboard and tell you where some of the access locations are as well.

Jeff Thompson:
Now, Greg, I believe here in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities area, the YMCAs are a part of the Aira Access network.

Greg Stilson:
Yup. I believe it's the YMCAs that are there.

Jeff Thompson:
That's great for people to go in, explore the place. At least enter the door like we were talking about Walgreens. Go in. Explore.

Greg Stilson:
One of the things that I would say is a little bit daunting as a blind person when you walk into a gym that you've never been in ... I travel all over the country and globally and stuff like that. One of the things that is often a deterrent for me going to a motel or a hotel gym is I don't know how to use the machines, right? I've got a treadmill at my home gym and I've got a stair stepper that I've learned how to use, but having an agent there to orient you to where the buttons are, just telling them, "Hey, I want to start this type or run," or they could tell you what option there are, one of the things ... There's so many fancy treadmills now with built in TVs and stuff like that.

Greg Stilson:
Maybe you just want to watch TV while you're running. You know what I'm saying? Being able to work those type of touchscreen devices and things like that are never accessible. So to be able to have an agent actually get you started, get you on the channel, show you what the buttons do or generally where they're located, it's a pretty powerful thing. Maybe we'll get a few people we'll say less apprehensive to go the gym because you're concerned about not knowing how the things work.

Jeff Thompson:
Yeah. 15 minutes later they could come back on and say, "Greg, keep going. Keep going, Greg."

Greg Stilson:
There you go.

Jeff Thompson:
Encouragements.

Pete Lane:
Motivation.

Jeff Thompson:
I think that is a big thing because there is so many situations where you don't even try. You don't even take that step. You don't walk out the door or go into some place, travel at the airport. I remember when you're talking about running through an airport to make a connecting flight.

Greg Stilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup. To have the freedom to be able to run like that with nobody at your side and just have the agent letting you know, "All right. Off to your right. Off to your left," now granted I informed them ahead of time that I was going to be running, but just to have that type of freedom and not have to wait for somebody. I'm a super impatient person in general, so to be able to have that freedom is pretty powerful.

Jeff Thompson:
You know, one last thing that I want to bring up is, probably not the last, but with the Veterans, Suman announced at the NFP Convention last summer that the Veterans signed on to Aira.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah. Yup. This is really big. I covered so much of the packages and things like that that are available. All I've touched on there are the regular like everyday subscription packages or the Aira Access Guest packages. The way that you can use it as a guest, but you're right. What I didn't touch on is the federal government, the VA. One of the things that we didn't have much of a presence in at all last year or the year before is the federal government. Some of the really exciting stuff that we've done this year is we are now on the GSA Schedule for federal government. If you are a federal employee, you can get Aira purchased as an accommodation from your employer off the GSA Schedule. In addition, we are officially approved by the VA.

Greg Stilson:
Any VA can purchase the product. If you're a veteran, you can ask your Dist. coordinator or your bros or whoever you're working with and ask them. We do have VA pricing that's available.

Jeff Thompson:
Which is very appealing from what I've heard too.

Greg Stilson:
It is. It's great option for the VA. Then lastly, I want to say that one of the things that we struggled for a long time early on was getting approved as a vendor in States for Voc. Rehab. We heard Dan Frye earlier this year who's really an experienced person in the vocational rehabilitation services. He's done a great job helping us get on those list in different states. But what we've learned is that even if Aira is not an approved vendor in your state, you can still get the product purchased for you. We do have voc rehab pricing available, but you do have to write a justification letter.

Greg Stilson:
We're more than happy to help write any of those letters for you if you are looking to have voc rehab purchase Aira for you. We have annual pricing for voc rehab that fits into their purchasing schedule in the way that they purchase things.

Jeff Thompson:
Oh, that's great. Like I said to other people, I said, "You know, the prices really haven't changed that much since they started, but the value added just multiplied over and over again."

Greg Stilson:
Yeah. It's 100% true, Jeff, and you're only going to see that increasing as our AI options continue and things like that. What I think I'm the most excited about with regard to the changes in prices and things like that is the lower entry point price. This was something that we've been asked for by all of the consumer groups out there, NFP, ACB. That was the number one request that we got from everyone is how do I ... If I'm not able to afford the $99 a month, can I get a little bit of Aira for a lower price? That's something that we're really excited about is at $29, you can get 30 minutes a month and use it for those things that maybe you don't think you need.

Greg Stilson:
You're not going to need 60 minute session or something like that, but maybe it's one or two minute task. I can give you one clear one that I use every single week. I have a two year old. I go to take her to school or to her daycare in the morning. On the way back, if we're low on her milk, I'll stop off at the convenience store in the corner, which they have milk there, and I'll run in and grab her a new gallon of whole milk. When I walk in, I could try to use one of the four OCR apps that I have on my phone to try to read the type of milk and the expiration date, but that rarely works.

Greg Stilson:
In 90 seconds, I can have an agent direct to where the whole milk is and check all of the expiration dates going back ... I learned very early from my mother that you always pick from the back. We always start from the back and check the expiration date.

Jeff Thompson:
Shout out to mom.

Greg Stilson:
Exactly. But it's one of things where what I could do in probably five to 10 minutes using various apps and solutions and maybe eventually just getting frustrated and going up and finding somebody to help me, I can do in less than 90 seconds with Aira. That's just one example of 30 minutes you have potential tasks that will be made a heck of a lot easier, even if it's just sorting through mail every few days. You can sort through mail in five minutes with Aira and do the amount of mail that would probably take you 30 to 45 minutes if you were using various apps or other solutions.

Greg Stilson:
All I'm going to say is that we're super excited to have this sort of low entry point option that allows you to really get a taste of Aira, see if it fits in your life, and you can go from there. Remember, if you are living near an access location, 30 minutes can get you pretty far if you live near an access location that you frequent regularity.

Jeff Thompson:
Yeah. Serena Gilbert asked the question, "Hi, Greg. I'm just wondering. I'm from Colorado. I work at a vocational rehab center. What is the response to the changes that you've just made from the community?"

Greg Stilson:
As you can imagine, the responses is mixed. I'm a straight shooter. I always have been. Anytime you change prices, I don't care what business you're in, Jeff, the response is going to be mixed. There's going to be people that love the changes. There's going to be people that don't like change in general.

Jeff Thompson:
As a rule, yeah.

Greg Stilson:
As a rule, right? We knew that going into it, but the reality and what I will say is there are certain things that had to be changed. One of the things we modified was the unlimited plan. It was not sustainable as a business. If you want Aira to be here in 12 months, the pricing and the plans that were there were just flat out not sustainable. I urge everybody to kind of look at that and say, "This company is growing. We are expanding. We are doing everything we can to really transfer the onus of minutes from the subscriber more towards businesses and more towards access solutions. But for us to do that, we have to be a sustainable business." That's where I would say that those changes had to be made.

Greg Stilson:
In the process, what is most exciting is, as I said, the low entry point offering, the low $29 plan so people can try it out. But I would say also we were able to reduce the cost per minute for our consumers on our most popular plan, which is the Standard Plan. We went from $.89 a minute down to $.83 a minute. You're getting 120 minutes now for $99 as opposed to 100 minutes for $89. When we looked at our consumption numbers, we learned that the vast majority of people were falling within that 30 to 120 minutes. How could we make it the most affordable possible for our most common customers to be able to use Aira on a monthly basis. That's really where I'm really excited that we were able to do that. So yeah.

Jeff Thompson:
24/7 too.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah, and that's the other side is that we're increasing our costs by going 24/7. That's been another very sought after request from our customers is having the time with no agents was not an acceptable solution for people. We accommodated that as well this year. This is something that needed to happen in order for Aira to grow and expand and continue to change the way that we're able to do business. I think you're going to see significant improvement. Remember, we're always evolving as well. All of these changes came from listening to our Explorers and listening to the community. We're always listening as well. Keep that feedback coming.

Jeff Thompson:
Yeah. Greg, I know Suman will probably tell you today or tomorrow, but what about next week?

Greg Stilson:
Next week's Thanksgiving, man.

Pete Lane:
There you go.

Greg Stilson:
Next week I'm eating a lot. That's my plans for next week.

Jeff Thompson:
You guys are open. People can use the service during Thanksgiving and-

Greg Stilson:
We are.

Jeff Thompson:
... Christmas, New Years.

Greg Stilson:
24/7 baby. 24/7.

Jeff Thompson:
There we go.

Pete Lane:
Greg, I wanted to add a question that I've been getting from my various communication platforms that I participate with Aira.

Greg Stilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Lane:
There's been some concern over the last several months about the quality and responsiveness of Aira tech support and customer care. I know that Suman himself came out with an email to all Explorers a few months ago explaining that he was aware of it and that they're putting a great deal of effort into improvement. Can you talk a little bit about what's improved with customer care, tech support, and what our Aira Explorers might expect if they make a contact?

Greg Stilson:
Absolutely. Customer care, as we're a growing company, first off, the number of customers has exploded and how many customers that we're serving. Making sure that we were able to accommodate and support those customers when things weren't working or when you had issues with your billing or when you had issues with your glasses or whatever else. We recognized that our support was not where it needed to be. As a startup company, this is a constant learning phase for us. We took a huge initiative. Suman took that very personally and made that one of the highest priorities internally. We implemented several changes.

Greg Stilson:
First off, we did ramp up our support hiring to make sure that we had enough specialists to answer your calls, but we also implemented an operator system. This is something that I think is really great is there's two ways of getting connected to a support agent now. Whenever you call in, you're going to get our operator. Our operator's job, if it's a simple problem, the operator can even solve the problem for you. If it's not simple, we have a number of different now care teams that specialize in various questions or issues that you maybe having. Whether your issue is related to hardware, to glasses, to billing, to the app, to your account, there's different teams that support those.

Greg Stilson:
Different connection points that the operator can get you to. If one of those team members is free, they'll do a direct transfer right then and there for you and you'll be able to work with that teammate to rectify your problem. If they're not, what we're doing is basically doing a scheduling a callback situation where you don't have to sit on hold anymore. You don't want to wait. Our agent will call you back at the specified time that you want to be called back in or a suggested time that works for the agent and yourself. This is something that we took very, very seriously. We're also significantly ramping up on our email communication. Making sure that within 24 hours you get an email communication back.

Greg Stilson:
It's something that, as I said, we took seriously and we're continuing to improve. Keep that feedback coming. If you're not getting the support that you feel you should be, make sure you let us know. It's support@aira.io. Make sure to let us know you are seeing the changes if they are improving or if they're not. That's the best way that we can learn.

Jeff Thompson:
The Explorers can now leave feedback for the agents. That there's certain things in the app that you have been improving so that you can get feedback to the agents better. If you're going to use a product or something, you can save time and your minutes by directly connecting up and they know what they're there for.

Greg Stilson:
Exactly. Yup. There's been a lot of changes to the app. We've always taken the feedback to the agents very seriously. You can rate an agent as good or poor, and then you can always leave comments. We urge everybody do that. It's the way that our agent analyst can help improve things if they're not going well or can give people a congratulatory pat on the back if they're doing something great too. It's a great way for us to understand how things are going for you. Then your comment, Jeff, about the access offers, that is a big change that we made in the app is to be able to initiate the access offer yourself rather than needing the agent to initiate it on their end.

Greg Stilson:
To be able to do that and actually call with an offer, you can actually call for free with one of those Aira Access offers so that you start that call using the sponsor's minutes rather than yours. As I said, you just use the button ... Not the big call button in the middle, but a button just below it called call with an access offer and that's where you can choose the small business offer, you can call using the Intuit QuickBooks product, or you can call using the Vispero product as well. We hope to add many, many more products and companies as time progresses.

Jeff Thompson:
My wife uses Chloe a lot at work because she has paperwork and stuff like that and she really likes that feature. Just the OCR just to be able to read it at will when she wants.

Greg Stilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup. I'm excited to say that we're very close to releasing an update to the Horizon system. It's been a really fantastic year with Horizon. It's been super exciting and just the response that we're hearing from Explorers on the significant improvement in their agent experience. We're going to be releasing an update to Horizon and to Chloe very shortly, which will significantly improve the reading capability. Then in addition, we're also going to be offering a document capture capability very similar to that of KNFB Reader and Seeing AI and that kind of stuff to be able to actually capture a full sheet and have it read to you.

Greg Stilson:
I think that's really just the beginning of what we're going to be doing with reading.

Jeff Thompson:
That sounds great.

Greg Stilson:
Yes. There's that. In addition, we're bringing a lot of the Aira Access offers piece up to sort of parity with the iOS and Android app where you actually can say to Chloe, "Hey, make an access call," and she'll actually ask you, "Okay. Do you want this to be a Vispero product call, an Intuit QuickBooks call," so you can now initiate just by using your voice any of these access calls as well, and even to the point where you can ask Chloe, "Hey, where's my nearest access location?" She'll actually do a quick search and tell you, "Hey, you've got a Walgreens right down the street."

Pete Lane:
Cool.

Jeff Thompson:
I just want to compliment you guys. We went to England and my wife took all these pictures with her Aira Glasses and stuff. One of the big things is they label them.

Greg Stilson:
Yeah.

Jeff Thompson:
She didn't need someone else to help her with Facebook or something or posting it here or there. It was done. It just rounded out her vacation. That's what you do on vacations. You take pictures and you send them out, and she did it while walking along. You know? It was really quite an experience.

Greg Stilson:
I can tell you, as a blind person who cannot see pictures, it's one of the most sort of powerful and yet underappreciated features is the labeling capability. For those of you who don't know, the agent can take pictures either with your glasses or your phone. We have so many Explorers who literally work with agents just to get that perfect selfie. They can label those images for you. What's really cool about that is that is that the label will actually go into the photo, it's part of the meta data in the photo, and it's read by VoiceOver. They'll send that picture to your app on your phone.

Greg Stilson:
Even if you take the photo with your Horizon Glasses, even though you're not using your smartphone at the time, the photo will go to your smartphone's app and you can add that photo directly to your camera roll or to your photos on your phone, or even share with something like Google Photos or Dropbox or anything like that for later on. But the nice part about that is the description that the agent put in will stay with that photo. Whatever screen reader you're using, whether it's Voiceover or Talkback or JAWS on a computer or in VDA, it'll read to you as touch that photo or go over the top of that photo. That's super powerful both in a social setting, but also we have so many students who will ...

Greg Stilson:
Let's say that they don't have a professors who's really verbose in reading the board or a PowerPoint slide or something like that, I had professors like that all the time, we have some students who will ask an agent to take a photo of the board and just label or write down the information into the photo label of what that is so that they can go back, either connect it to a Braille display later on. Just when they're in their dorm room studying-

Jeff Thompson:
That's amazing.

Greg Stilson:
... they can listen to the content.

Jeff Thompson:
Fantastic.

Pete Lane:
That's awesome.

Jeff Thompson:
Greg, I really want to thank you for coming on the Blind Abilities here and talking to our listeners and telling us all the new opportunities people have with Aira. Pete, is there anything you want to add?

Pete Lane:
No. I just wanted to thank Greg as well. We've been speaking with Greg Stilson. Greg is the Director of Product Management for Aira. He's a regular guest here on Blind Abilities. It's always good to hear from you and chat with you, Greg. Thanks for the updates.

Greg Stilson:
Thanks for having me on, guys. It's always a pleasure and have a great holiday next week. All the listeners have a fantastic holiday. Keep that feedback coming. We're always growing and evolving and you guys are the reason why this product is what it is.

Jeff Thompson:
Thank you, Greg.

Pete Lane:
Thanks, Greg.

Jeff Thompson:
Such a great time talking to Greg Stilson once again. Be sure to check out Aira on the web at aira.io. I want to thank Pete Lane for coming back in the studios and a big thank you goes out to Chee Chau for his beautiful music. You can find Chee Chau on Twitter @LCheeChau. Chee Chau. Chee Chau. Once again, I want to thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed. Until next time, bye, bye.

[Music]  [Transition noise]  

-When we share

-What we see

-Through each other's eyes...

[Multiple voices overlapping, in unison, to form a single sentence]

...We can then begin to bridge the gap between the limited expectations, and the realities of Blind Abilities.

Jeff Thompson:

For more podcasts with a blindness perspective, check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on Twitter at Blind Abilities. Download our app from the App Store, Blind Abilities. That's two words. Or send us an email at info@blindabilities.com. Thanks for listening.