by Suman Kanuganti
From the Editor: Suman Kanuganti is the cofounder and chief executive officer of Aira Tech. Aira was a proud convention sponsor of the National Federation of the Blind 2018 Convention, and its services were made available to Aira Explorers and to Aira Guests. Those who had not yet tried Aira were invited to download the app and try the service while at the convention, the airport, and other sites around Orlando.
Here are the remarks that Mr. Kanuganti made to the convention on the afternoon of July 6:
Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Suman Kanuganti, founder and CEO of Aira. I'm delighted to be attending my fourth NFB convention, an early-July tradition that I plan to celebrate with you all for years to come.
As usual, joining me this year are another large group of Aira employees, engineers, Aira agents, and many, many Aira Explorers. I'd like to ask all of the Explorers in the crowd to say "I."
Aira is proud to be a part of the NFB family. Many of you have played a vital role in molding our company. I'm grateful to President Mark Riccobono and all of you for being vital stakeholders, creating a platform to augment the ability of every human being on the planet by providing instant access to information anywhere and anytime.
My involvement with the NFB has taught me much about blindness. The NFB's core philosophy informs how we at Aira understand our role and aim to enhance access to information: always on your terms, whenever you need it, and however you want it. If you had a great experience with an Aira Agent, make some noise. Aira's human agents and Chloe—our evolving AI assistant—exist to objectively enhance access to both the physical and digital world, enabling you to achieve peak efficiency no matter what you're doing, the mundane and the marvelous.
Because of my relationship with the NFB and through my study of our home-grown philosophy of self-determination as it relates to blindness, I want to reassure you that Aira trains its agents to believe fundamentally in the capacity of those who are blind. [applause] We train our staff to respect the alternative, nonvisual techniques of blindness. We teach our staff to convey useful visual detail in an objective manner. And we encourage our agents to defer to the on-the-ground judgment of Explorers, exactly as Chancey Fleet said in her earlier remarks. We also candidly set those expectations with every new Explorer.
In short, Aira is one of many effective tools or skills, such as the cane or Braille, that anyone may choose to use to manage their lives in the way they want. And, it's really, really important to understand that the comprehensive Aira service will organically improve through the growing community of Explorer usage, as analyzing usage patterns is an important way to teach both humans and Chloe what the community most desires. This is how Chloe will be guided by the blind. [applause]
If I may change the topic for a moment: recently, some of my NFB friends asked me about my background, and what influences my thinking. Well, I grew up in a small university town back in India, where I earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. Then I attended the University of Missouri—Columbia, where I earned my master's in robotics and computer engineering. Following school, I served in different roles, mostly in corporate America, including as an engineer programming robots at Caterpillar; as a hacker, integrating computers and machines at Qualcomm; and as a manager of several teams creating solutions in the connected world at Intuit. As a lifelong student, I took my second master's earning an MBA at the University of California, San Diego, focusing on entrepreneurship and economics. With this background, I started Aira. Before I continue, please remember that I love math, data, inflecting ideas, and economic models. So, with that in mind, I would like to share some key metrics at Aira.
Aira, in the last twelve months, went from amassing 60,000 minutes to 1.4 million minutes of live-description session time between our Explorers and agents. Put that in context, and that translates to 20,000 hours or nearly three calendar-years of conversations over 125,000 sessions across five-hundred unique tasks, falling into eight general categories at home, at work, and in the outside world. In 99.9 percent of cases, calls are answered in under ten seconds, precisely 8.64 seconds.
Why am I telling you about these numbers (other than because I love metrics)? Well the data speaks for itself. It tells us the story of how our technology and services are impacting Explorers on a massive scale.
We also gained some insightful surprises. One year ago, most people in the community thought that Aira would be a tool primarily for navigation; now as it developed, only 23 percent of our sessions have related to navigation. And who would have anticipated that 28 percent of our sessions would have primarily involved reading—and now we're using the contexts from these sessions to help Chloe learn and review relevant material for you. This is a beautiful example of how the community is shaping Chloe's maturation.
Now, superficially, Aira's technology may seem simple: a camera on a pair of glasses connecting Explorers to a trained agent who describes the environment. But the platform the Aira service is built on is not just based on video streaming from a phone-to-phone, Facetime-type application. Instead, our platform re-creates a composite, virtual environment of where you are, in a digital space, relying on our proprietary dashboard technology that our agents run on their computers. The dashboard is an intelligent, context-aware data integrator with video streams, GPS, sensors, mobile network data, satellite images, street view maps, and indoor views—I can go on— but also a number of online applications including Lyft, Uber, Yelp, Amazon, and even AirBnB. Our dashboard also runs Chloe, who uses each session's interactions to become a smarter AI agent.
For the last year we have been working on the fundamentals of Chloe, who has come to life at the convention with our new Horizon Smart Glasses. [applause] Inspired by the feedback from our Explorers, and meticulously designed by Aira engineers, Horizon is equipped with computational power, improved camera specifications, network stability, and the simplicity of Chloe dialogue. This provides not just a stable platform for Explorers, but it is also purpose-built for making the most of the Aira service.
One of Chloe's principal advantages is her ability to learn from you and others with whom you interact. Chloe is now able to listen and respond to you through our Horizon Glasses. Another key skill of Chloe's is the ability to spot read, which is currently in beta testing. Here's a fun fact—some of the technical components used in Chloe's system are powered by the NFB's own KNFB Reader. But, given the fact that reading a document and reading an overhead sign require different skills, our human agents are available to help Chloe when she needs it. This means that Chloe will be able to master reading in the widest array of areas. Chloe's capacity for situational awareness is growing gradually with each Explorer interaction—and we're incredibly excited to see what she'll do next.
If you know about our Back to School program, say I. Awesome! Did you know that Aira has recorded over 32,000 minutes over 4,500 sessions of student Explorer use on college campuses around the nation? Students are putting Aira into action in a number of ways, including finding and selecting books from a library; getting descriptions of images in those books; reading handwritten text on the blackboard; submitting assignments online that present tricky forms; experiencing campus events; and even working on their online job profiles and formats, along with applying for jobs on company websites that may be inaccessible with screen readers.
Recognizing our partnership with the NFB, I am now proud to announce that Aira will offer each recipient of the 2018 NFB scholarship class access to our Back to School program. [applause] These students are guaranteed nine months of free Aira services, with all the advantages that Aira Explorers enjoy every day. At this point, I would like to thank our partner AT&T for its support with this program. [applause]
But these students are not the only ones we want to share the Aira experience with this week. If you haven't already, please, and I say please, download the free Aira app by visiting aira.io/app on your mobile phone, and sign up as a Guest. Most of you may already know this, but I would like to formally announce that the NFB convention and a number of locations in Orlando are free Aira Access locations for every one of you including Orlando International Airport and all Rosen Hotels. This is made possible through the creation of an exclusive NFB plan for Explorers, and we also have a special starter plan created available during the convention days.
Not only do I want you to try Aira, but I would like to make your experience at the convention as efficient and enjoyable as possible. Thanks to our partnership with Lyft, all Aira Explorer and Guest calls for organizing Lyft rides during the convention are free. So Lyft, thank you. [applause] For more information visit aira.io/nfb.
We are continuously expanding our Aira Access around the country for our Guests and Explorers to access the Aira service free. I want you to know that this is not just about Aira providing greater access to the blind community. It is in fact the blind community that is paving the way for greater access in our time for all. Did you know NFB HQ in Baltimore is also part of the Aira Access Network? Yep.
Let's talk about Aira at work. A fun fact: Over 25,000 work-related tasks were captured last year leading to a productive workplace. Earlier this year on Feb 21, Aira launched its Aira Employment Program, joined by President Mark Riccobono, which allows all career-seeking Explorers to use the Aira service for all career-search related activities at no cost. Explorers have used the program to create and review resumés, fill out job applications, get rides to the interview, access previously inaccessible content, and perform independent navigation to and from the interview. And employers have used the program to increase employee efficiency by providing access to the tools and technologies that can enhance productivity, self-sufficiency, and motivation. A fun fact which is not in my script is that we have four-hundred people in the last five months who used our career-seeking platform. [applause] This is why I am inviting every employer in the United States to become part of the Aira Employer Network. I am proud to share that the American Foundation for the Blind is the latest employer joining this network. There is a great workforce available for hire right now, just waiting for an opportunity to shine.
For example, the Aira Employment Program just got stronger, and the Aira Access Network just got better. Let's see. How many of you are self-employed? Well that's reasonable. Many of our sessions involve sorting customer receipts, confirming inventory, and providing online assistance to send invoices.
So, it's my pleasure to announce a brand new partnership with Intuit targeted to those who are self-employed or who are business owners. Intuit's mission is to power prosperity. So, to power your prosperity, starting this September Intuit will enable free use of Aira's service whenever any Explorer or Guest needs visual access to all matters pertaining to running your business. Here is the best part: it doesn't matter if you are an Intuit customer. We are literally talking about all tasks related to operating or managing your business. This includes reading receipts, invoices, filing taxes, selecting paint for a new office, and, of course, using the market-leading products from Intuit such as QuickBooks. Ted Drake, please stand up if you are in the room. I want to thank Ted Drake, chief accessibility officer at Intuit, for making this partnership happen. So Ted, thank you. [applause]
So far we have touched on four topics. By expanding access to Aira for students, jobseekers, employees, and employers, we have the potential to transform lives to take 70 percent to 7 percent together.
A quick note: Aira occasionally faces the challenge of how the media portrays an Explorer's authentic experience with our service. So, to address any doubt about what Aira as a company fervently believes, I am pleased to release our brand guidelines. To view these, please visit Aira.io/branding. I want to thank the Aira NFB Advisory Committee for its feedback in our development and articulation of these fundamental principles.
There are always new value-added features and updates being added to the Aira service. So far, most sessions between Explorers and agents have been conducted through voice. Recently, we incorporated a new feature into our system, designed for accommodating the needs of our deaf-blind Explorers and for Explorers who want to communicate discreetly with our agents. I'm glad the Aira Messages feature is available now for all Explorers.
How many of you here use the JAWS screen reader? In yet another example of how Chloe's intelligence is derived from conversations between Explorers and agents, Aira announced a new collaboration with VFO. The new collaboration will equip all VFO customers with free use of the Aira service should they require visual access to a screen while using one of VFO's products, such as the JAWS screen reader. This will help to increase the user's efficiency while simultaneously prioritizing the development of features suggested by the data sought. This integration will also help Chloe to learn patterns of the software. I want to thank Tom Tiernan, CEO of the VFO Group, for his partnership. [applause]
Let me talk about our latest and greatest features that I saved for this moment, for all of you. First though, how do you like our Aira agents' live and vivid descriptions of events such as the Super Bowl and the royal wedding? The royal wedding was in fact suggested by the NFB, so we made it happen just two nights before. Also, how many Explorers have gone to a concert, watched a movie, or been to a museum with Aira? Now, what if Explorers could choose to share those experiences with others live?
Yep, for the first time ever, at this 2018 Convention, I would like to announce a new feature called "Aira Live." Aira Live gives Explorers the ability to go live during a session with an Aira agent, allowing fellow Explorers and Guests to listen to a live audio stream of their session. Aira Live is perfect for Explorers who want to share their experiences at events, shows, movies, or for exploring as a group—publicly or privately. Every feature I've shared today is available to you now, and yes, Aira Live is in queue for the app store release anytime today. To learn more, talk to any of our staff; they will be waiting on the left when you exit the ballroom.
Aira Live is another innovative way to engage our community and to further help Chloe to understand the context of people's emotions. The more she learns, the better she can serve the community. And although Chloe's main role is to serve the community, she can't do it without first learning from it. That's why we say that it's Chloe being guided by the blind. So, to express my appreciation, I would like to ask all the Explorers and Guests in the audience to please stand. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause. [applause] Thank you.
So far, we've talked about education, employment, and access. But for me, our work at Aira is about restructuring the economy and the industry and community and its market serving blind people.
To express my appreciation and commitment to all of you, and to celebrate this convention with you, I am super pumped to remind you to join us for an exclusive Aira and NFB event, the concert tonight with Apl.de.Ap from the Black Eyed Peas.
Aira has been around for a little over three years now, and I hope you all see the progress, the impact, and the vision of this company. This company is about the community, and it is about restructuring the economy in the industry—an industry that requires behavior change and that requires everyone to come together. It invites and engages the blind and low-vision community to benefit from the profound advantages of our system together. In fact, today's screen readers are built for reading and interpreting screens designed for visual experiences, which is a great solution. However, there is a need for a solution which is entrenched in every aspect of a blind or low-vision person's life that can cut time-tasks, regardless of whether it requires humans or computer algorithms or AI to work.
Aira will save time for everyone, thus saving money for everyone. Incremental investments today will yield larger positive developments for tomorrow. Potential developments include efficiency, higher education, more jobs, and more fun. I would like to close by saying that Aira is just warming up, and we will not stop until the idea of inaccessibility becomes a thing of the past. [applause] Let's welcome the generation of new accessibility together. Please visit NewAccessibility.io to let me know your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for this opportunity.