Watch: Nearly blind runner takes on marathon with the help of AT&T and Aira

Erich Manser compares his fading vision to peering through a drinking straw that's covered by wax paper. That’s because he was diagnosed at age 5 with degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that causes his peripheral vision to close in over time and leads to blindness. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop Erich from running in the 2017 Boston Marathon, making it the 8th time he ran the marathon. But this year, Erich navigated with an extra pair of eyes — ones located across the country.

Using the AT&T network, his smartphone and the camera on his smart glasses, Erich connected with an Aira (pronounced eye-ra) agent in Ohio. Her job was to "see" what Erich's smart glasses see. She then verbally told Erich what was happening in near real time. She helped him avoid the cracks, zig-zagging runners and flying water cups, so Erich could focus on the race. You can watch it in action in this video on the AT&T Innovation Blog.

A resident of Littleton, Massachusetts, Erich works for IBM and specializes in accessibility research. Among his projects is the self-driving car, which Erich says offers a lot of potential for people who can't drive themselves.

He became an Aira beta tester — and a subscriber to the service — and he finds himself using it more and more. Though he has a wife and daughters at home, he likes doing everyday tasks independently, when he can. With Aira, he can even decipher the tiny type on nutrition labels! He's also used it to manage his way through airports, something many of his friends who are completely blind have also had the chance to do.

"They have never in their life navigated [through] an airport — from the check-in to drop their bags, through security and the gate. It's always been something that a person needed to help them,” Erich said. “Using Aira, they've gone completely solo through that whole process, and it's been life-changing for them — and really compelling for me."

The AT&T and Aira collaboration began at the AT&T Foundry for Connected Health in Houston, where we work to bring connected and integrated healthcare solutions to the market. Providing connectivity for the startup Aira is a great example of how Internet of Things technology can help solve problems and improve lives. AT&T has connected more than 30 million "things" — or connected devices — to our network as of the end of 2016.

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