San Diego startup gets $2.5M+ Series A for remote navigation assistance for the blind

Aira.IO CEO Suman Kanuganti

Aira.IO is working to give the blind and others with low vision greater freedom and mobility by using wearable devices to offer real-time, guided navigation assistance from a human agent based on that information. Following fast on the heels of an $800,000 seed round in October, the startup now has raised an additional more than $2.5 million in a Series A financing.

The self-styled "visual interpreter" is intended to enhance the ability of those with significant vision impairments to navigate and explore unfamiliar locations--potentially making solo explorations and travel a more viable option for the more than 20 million people in the U.S. who might benefit from such a product.

The technology and services are expected to launch around the middle of this year.

Founded in 2014, Aira.IO's (pronounced i-ra) name is intended to be a tip of the hat both to the all-seeing Eye of Ra stemming from Egyptian mythology, as well the field of artificial intelligence (AI). Futurist Ray Kurzweil sits on the company's board, as do several prominent, active figures who themselves have vision problems.

The company's technology-enabled, interactive service offers live assistance through a network of certified agents as well as family, friends and volunteers who can track the movements of the visually impaired subject using smart glasses such as Google Glass and Vuzix. The agents and others can see a map locating the person, as well as a visual image of what's around them and dashboard of other data drawn from cameras, GPS and wearable sensor systems. The dashboard can be accessed via smartphone or tablet.

The expectation is that artificial intelligence could eventually play a role, learning from these agents and other assistants how best to offer guidance--thereby potentially making the product a bit more easily scalable one day.

Aira.IO has already conducted beta testing with more than 100 blind and low-vision users in various Southern California locations including the San Diego Center for the Blind. They evaluated it in real life and simulated settings that included scenarios in which the participants were navigating busy city streets, identifying canned goods in a kitchen, buying clothes in a simulated department store and other activities.

The new cash infusion was led by Lux Capital and Arch Venture Partners, with participation from Felicis Ventures, Larry Bock, Scott Belsky and other undisclosed angel investors.

Aira's mission is "to bring intelligent and efficient assistance to millions of Americans," said co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti, Aira Co-Founder & CEO in a statement. "There is a massive market opportunity to bring modern technology to a population that can reap its benefits."

Added Lux Capital co-founder and Managing Partner Josh Wolfe who joined the company's board as part of the financing, "It quite literally is a vision for vision, empowerment, and unlocking potential."

- here is the announcement

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