WCVB Channel 5: MBTA launches pilot connecting blind transit users with human AI technology

MBTA launches pilot connecting blind transit users with human AI technology

Friday, May 3 2019

WCVB’s Channel 5 featured demos by Aira explorers Matt McCubbin and Paul Schroeder

The MBTA launched a free, six-month accessibility technology pilot Friday called AccessAI using a company's human artificial intelligence technology.

"Aira allows users to connect to a highly trained agent for live visual information anywhere in the T system’s subway stations, bus stops, commuter rail stations, and ferry docks," MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said.

The MBTA said it will get the word out about the new service through targeted marketing to blind access CharlieCard holders, to the RIDE’s blind or low-vision users and through community engagement with local blind and low-vision advocate groups.

The pilot comes at no cost to the MBTA, the agency said.

Aira’s visual interpreter service will be available to users for free throughout the MBTA’s subway, bus, ferry and commuter rail systems during the six-month pilot from May 1 to Oct. 31.

During the six-month pilot, users will be regularly surveyed on the app’s impacts on their travel patterns with additional data that is gathered available to both the MBTA and Aira. The next steps following the pilot’s conclusion will be determined after this data is analyzed.

"Aira is passionate about transforming daily life for people who are blind or low vision, as better mobility leads to a better economy, which impacts everyone positively," said Aira co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti. "We are proud to be collaborating with the MBTA on this unprecedented public-private partnership. Together, we will increase accessibility on public transit for communities in Massachusetts and the world."

The technology has been used at other Massachusetts locations including the Perkins School for the Blind and the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Free access to Aira is also available at Massport’s Boston Logan Airport and Worcester Airport.

MBTA customers interested in accessing Aira while within the MBTA system are encouraged to visit the MBTA website.