Starbucks’ new feature is here, bringing the “third eye” to the blind

Imagine if you close your eyes and without any support, almost no one can walk from home to the Starbucks in the city center.

But if you close your eyes, there is a voice that can tell you how to go out, what obstacles are around you, how many meters to reach Starbucks, where to place your order, what are the new products in the store… Does it immediately feel a lot easier?

This is a new service launched by Starbucks in the United States -to help visually impaired and low-vision people use the Aira app to conveniently place orders .

Starbucks brings a "third eye" to the visually impaired

Many people think that accessibility services are far away from us, but in fact, non-visually impaired people may also face dazzling problems when they get old. Paying attention to the real difficulties and needs around us is the prerequisite for everyone to enjoy more equal, friendly and convenient services .​

Many services that make our lives better are just starting to change from a small place.

This new service is a new entrance.

The process it uses is very simple. People first download the Aira app, which will match a trained visual interpreter to connect with users remotely.

Just put the phone camera facing forward and you are ready to go. Visual interpreters for remote services will become the eyes of users.

After walking into Starbucks, the service staff will use the camera to view the environment around the user in real time.

For example, tell you how to get to the order counter, whether there are steps in front, whether there will be a table or chair next to it, and how many meters away from the target.

The current epidemic situation in foreign countries is still serious, which can also help the visually impaired to quickly maintain a safe distance from others and avoid contact with too many objects.

When you walk to the counter, the visual interpreter will tell you what pastries are in the glass cabinet, what coffee is on the menu, and will introduce you to each type of food.

When the meal is finished, it will remind you to take the meal and tell you where the coffee is. While you are waiting, you will also need other services, such as taking you to the bathroom.

Susan, a 17-year-old woman who was blinded by multiple sclerosis, shared her feelings as the first batch of experiencers.

She said that after losing her sight, "losing the ability to read text" has always been one of her most difficult things, because all environments are full of instructions, labels, and menus.

But the biggest change in going to Starbucks now is that you don’t have to remember those slurping coffee names, and you will not miss the latest seasonal drinks.​

▲ Ms. Susan is ordering, picture from: Starbucks

Currently, this service is only available in the United States and Canada, and I hope it will also appear in China as soon as possible.

​Aira's service itself is not complicated. Its value lies in the improvement of the "communication" between the blind and the outside world .

For example, there is no need to worry about sudden changes in the travel environment, avoid collisions with surrounding customers, and no more frequent inquiries with store attendants, which greatly improves the independence of the visually impaired .

Cooperation with Aira is part of Starbucks’ new initiatives to improve accessibility services. Starbucks previously replaced its menu pages with large fonts and Braille menus, and provided Starbucks visually impaired and hearing impaired employees with transparent masks, etc., to promote this inclusiveness, Diverse and fair culture.

The bright spots behind this service are actually more worthy of attention.

We can "borrow" the eyes of others to walk

Aira is now one of the most popular digital platforms for the visually impaired in some countries.

This start-up company is located in the United States. In the name of Aira, Ai stands for artificial intelligence and Ra stands for the eyes of the ancient Egyptian sun god. It carries the beautiful wishes of the founder- to give the visually impaired more confidence and greater confidence through technology. Autonomy does not need to rely too much on external support and help .

Compared to the service at Starbucks, Aira can do more.

After its establishment in 2014, its earliest product was launched as an additional service of Google Glasses, consisting of Google Glasses, a remote man-machine interface with AI function, and AT&T's dedicated broadband technology.

When people activate the glasses equipped with a front camera and a built-in microphone, an "assistant" will appear within 10 seconds to view the world that the user sees in real time.

Aira’s smart system will store the user’s detailed information, including their past medical history and emergency contacts, in case of accidents. It will also record frequently visited attractions based on the user’s hobbies, and update the location information in real time to allow them to follow along. Walk on the correct road and check the traffic conditions nearby to prevent them from being at a loss in crowded areas.

An interesting point is that when the visually impaired meets an acquaintance on the road, the front camera will also recognize them based on the photo information on the social network, and then remind the user to greet them.

Therefore, the strength of Aira is not how smart the hardware is, but the help system that it is trying to build behind .

Now, Aira is also cooperating with more and more platforms, including by contacting Walgreens , the second largest chain pharmacy in the United States , so that visually impaired people can find exactly the drugs they want; cooperating with Lyft, letting visually impaired people use Airgreen to initiate Lyft's itinerary , understanding the driver's information, tracking the itinerary, ensuring that the drop-off location is correct, etc., so that accessibility services are extended to more and more platforms.

▲ Picture from: Aira

However, in terms of cost, Aira uses a subscription system, with a monthly standard membership of 99 US dollars (about 644 yuan) and 120 minutes of remote help time, which is not cheap for ordinary consumers.

But this time working with Starbucks, it is free to use Aira in their stores, and there is no need to wear smart glasses.

It is conceivable that in the future, the "lidar" of the iPhone camera may also bring a more convenient experience to similar apps through long detection distance and high-precision imaging.

The AR map can provide real-time information about on-site measurements, and use specific numbers to display detailed distances, making the risk of actual mistakes smaller.

Because this technology is not complicated, there are many similar services on the market. Be My Eyes is also an app that can help visually impaired people see things. This app supports more than 80 languages. As long as you open the app and click to call, it will A volunteer turned on the video to help.

According to reports, there are now more than 10,000 blind people on this platform , but there are more than 115,000 volunteers. Volunteers even rely on grabbing to help.

One month after its launch, it has helped many visually impaired people find medicine, read out the expiration date of food, and helped them buy their favorite orange juice. The volunteers said:

Every time we help is so small, but it is of great significance.

▲ Picture from: Atlas of the Future

Help can bring happiness to both parties. Douban netizen "Winter Wolf" has a saying that is also impressive :

It is often small things that make people happy and moving, and the accumulation of small happiness is great happiness.

"Borrowing" the eyes of others will bring more and more convenience to the visually impaired.

This not only changes the time they spend in the external environment, but also changes the way they walk in the world.

Accessibility service, is it really barrier-free?

In fact, there are still many technological tools to help the visually impaired.

From The Bradley , a watch that can read the time through magnetic touch , Ustraap, a bracelet that can detect roadside obstacles; there are also many smart glasses that recognize the environment through AI, such as the smart glasses MyEye launched by the Israeli company Orcam, and the Dutch startup Envision launched AI glasses…….

Envision smart glasses also cooperate with Google, equipped with the fastest and most accurate OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software available, which can accurately extract images in front of you, including people, objects, public transportation, recipes, etc., and then convert them into audio reading Listen to users.

Although the original intention was good, the current state-of-the-art AI image recognition still has a gap from the recognition ability of our human eyes or brain. I don’t worry about wearing it when I go out, not to mention that the glasses cost more than 10,000 yuan. One set.

▲ Envision smart glasses

There are more technological products that help the visually impaired. They are only conceptual products. The technology looks superb and the functions look fancy, but they are rarely used when they are made.

Technical limitations prevent them from being commercialized and popularized.

In addition, practicality is also a major issue . Many accessibility services are full of pseudo-demands. Either the product is difficult to operate, or there is no need for operation.

Some barrier-free smart glasses add an infrared obstacle avoidance device to test the obstacles in front. But in fact, most of the obstacles encountered on the street, such as manhole covers, trash cans, and shared bicycles, are actually hit by the foot first, not the head.

▲ Picture from: Unstoppable After Seventy

However, the encouraging side is that apps like Aira and Be My Eyes actually present a new possibility in accessibility services.

They truly stand from the perspective of the visually impaired, solve their problems in life simply and quickly, and directly meet their "seeing" needs, albeit in a shifting way.

Having said that, the psychological considerations of barrier-free services also need to be taken seriously .

Currently, apps like Aira and Be My Eyes cannot completely replace guide dogs and guide sticks. It can only be said that through remote collaboration, real-world tasks can be completed more quickly.

Most of the time, visually impaired people still use guide dogs and guide sticks to find their way by themselves, and only call these service platforms when they really need it.

▲ Picture from: The International Agency for the Prevention of Blind

High fees are a major limitation, and non-payment may also be another "limitation."

The need to trouble others and the mentality of burdening others makes it easy for people to avoid using it as much as possible. After all, the visually impaired are also ordinary people, and self-reliance is very important for everyone.

From this perspective, paying for services in software, through a reciprocal way, may also reduce the mentality of relying on others and have more autonomy and choice.

Regarding the psychological aspect, there is another thing worth noting that we should think from the perspective of everyone, not just from the perspective of the visually impaired .

Everyone does not want to be isolated. In fact, everyone is not "sound".

▲ Picture from: the movie "Tuina"

When you take off your glasses, you will become a "visually impaired"; when you swim into the sea, you will become a "hearing impaired"; when you go abroad and cannot communicate, you will become an "aphasia"…

The first barrier-free service must be a service that benefits everyone in the end.

As Google Android accessibility designer Xia Bingying said:

The problems encountered by users with disabilities are an enlarged version of the problems that everyone encounters.

You may not know that SMS was originally designed for the hearing impaired , so that they don’t have to listen to the phone, but now, our typing time is much longer than the talking time.

Jobs also defined a good product as a perfect product, no matter who, as long as it is in his hand, can use it well. The people who use the product in the end will become more and more powerful.

Barrier-free services will eventually lead everyone to a simplified, natural, and perceivable future life without action.

▲ Picture from: Movie "Flying Against the Light"

Therefore, we need to pay more attention to the barrier-free in life, and at the same time help to achieve barrier-free. (For how to do it, it is recommended to pay attention to the "Accessibility Design Team" public account and the knowledge base they have established )

There are more than 285 million visually impaired people in the world, and there are more than 17 million visually impaired people in China , and one out of every 100 people is blind.

An environment that is more and more friendly, tolerant, and open can allow people to live in it as equals and show their light and heat to the fullest.

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