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Nearly blind runner competes in Boston Marathon with help of digital eyes

Published Apr 21st, 2017 12:38PM EDT
accessibility tech

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Marathon runner Erich Manser competed in his eighth Boston Marathon this year, but with each passing year he’s able to see less and less of the actual event. Manser has a degenerative eye disease that has caused him to slowly go blind since he was a child. It makes the prospect of running through crowded streets even more of a challenge than it already is, but this year Manser had a bit of high-tech help to guide him. It’s a visual interpretation service called Aira and the app, in partnership with AT&T, were able to give the nearly blind marathoner real-time guidance as he cruised to the finish line.

The Aira platform utilizes both a smartphone app and wearables to provide live support for those with vision problems. A pair of smart glasses — Google Glass is one of the options, along with Vuzix — work hand-in-hand with the wearer’s smartphone to send a live video feed directly to a visual interpretation agent who talks directly to the wearer. The agent can warn the Aira user of obstacles and describe what they are looking at.

For Manser, Aira and AT&T teamed up to give the seasoned runner all the live information he needed to navigate the crowded course while avoiding the typical pitfalls of a popular marathon, like debris on the path and runners catching their breath who might be blocking the way.

It’s always refreshing to see the often gimmicky “Internet of Things” actually pay off in a meaningful way for someone who can truly benefit from the advancements in technology, and a reminder to not take things like functional vision for granted.