MINNEAPOLIS - Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is now the second airport in the nation to offer free access to new technology that helps blind and visually impaired travelers.
The startup Aira, based in San Diego, helps its users navigate the world through smart glasses, an app and instant access to the eyes of a trained professional.
Greg Stilson, who is blind, used the technology while navigating MSP Airport Wednesday morning.
After putting on his smart glasses, he logged into his Aira app. The app connected to his glasses and he was then connected on the phone to an agent. The agent will guide the user from a remote location, viewing a live stream from the camera on the smart glasses.
"She was able to see not only my location but she could see the map of the airport. She could see any points of interest that were around and I gave her the destination that I was going to. She saw that I arrived at C9 and I needed to get to one of the restaurants," said Stilson, also director of product development for Aira.
Once at the restaurant, the agent was able to read the menu for him.
"A blind person, when they're 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're able to go where they want to go and they're able to make stops on the way," Stilson said.
Wednesday, MSP Airport joined the Aira Airport Network.
"It's one more way that Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is working to not only invest but ensure that we're amongst the world's most accessible airports," said Brian Ryks, Metropolitan Airports Commission CEO.
Aira is a monthly subscription, starting at $89. The plan includes glasses. It works similar to a cell phone plan with minutes.
Now Aira users will be able to use the service for free while at MSP Airport.
"Just like when you go to Starbucks and they pick up your Wi-Fi, the airport will now cover the cost of your Aira minutes," said Kevin Phelan, Aira vice president.
According to Ryks, MAC will pay $2 a minute with an initial $5,000 investment. They will monitor the cost and adjust if needed.
Stilson added, "By being able to make one simple call to agent to say, 'Hey, I'm looking to get something to eat. I've got time to kill. What's nearby? And be able to make that decision on my own... is just a tremendous life improvement."
MSP is the second airport to join the Aira Airport Network. Memphis International Airport joined last year.
Phelan said he expects other airports will join the network, as well, this year.