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New smartphone app helps visually impaired travelers at Mitchell International

Posted at 6:14 PM, Nov 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-20 19:14:08-05

The new smartphone app AIRA is free at General Mitchell International Airport for everyone to use because the airport is paying for it.

AIRA stands for "Artificial Intelligence Remote Assistance" the service allows those with little or no vision, in a sense, see the world around them.

The app lets AIRA agents use a camera in the user's specialized pair of glasses or on their smartphone describe the world around them.

Agents are a helpful pair of eyes, while the user does the actual physical work of navigating a room, cooking, or attending their child's school activity. While the app has been around for three years, it's still relatively new. Sarah Heesen says she's a big fan of AIRA. 

"I have a first grader," said Heesen. "They let me know if the shirt I put on him matched or not." 

Although she may make jokes, Heesen says AIRA helps her move independently versus relying on those with sight to stop what they're doing to help her. 

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele says this app is making travel easier. Abele says the county is looking into making sure AIRA is free at the courthouse, zoo, local parks, and even the beer gardens. 

"We're proud to be one of the first airports in the nation and the first in Wisconsin to offer this service free of charge," said Abele.

AIRA is a paid for service. But Abele says having the airport pay for the app just makes sense. Mitchell International's web page tells passengers to arrive at least two hours before their flight departs.

TSA reports this holiday weekend more than 2.6 million people are hitting the sky. Therefore, a crowded airport and potential for flight delays or early arrivals means time is of the essence for everyone. 

AIRA's Director of Product, Greg Stilson says the app will be a time saver because it gives users the verbal guidance they need to more easily navigate almost any situation. Stilson says users and potential users can find more information here.