We all know Tritons see the world differently. Yet Suman Kanuganti, MBA ’15, takes this to the next level, creating a world where even the visually impaired can “see”—though a little differently than you might think.
While a student at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, Kanuganti was motivated by the will and determination of a friend who had lost his vision. “He was very tenacious and constantly on the move … I found that to be very inspiring,” he says. “I tried to think of ways I could help him navigate the world.”
And with an average 23.7 million adults (aged 18 and older) visually impaired in the U.S. alone, Kanuganti’s drive to help one person may end up changing the lives of an entire population.
With an engineering background and the support of Rady’s “Lab to Market” course and StartR business accelerator, Kanuganti launched Aira, a remote assistive technology platform that opens a world of opportunity and independence for visually impaired individuals.
The concept is simple—combining wearable smart device technology like Google Glass with a remote assistant who can see a user’s real-time situation and act as a virtual co-pilot navigating users through their everyday lives. For instance, people with visual impairment could have menus read to them, interpret maps and navigate public transportation with confidence, and even receive help with the slightest tasks, such as selecting products off a shelf.
With a concept so novel, the transition from startup to fully developed business was swift. Aira is off the ground and running, profoundly impacting the quality of life for the visually impaired. “Self-confidence, dignity, self-assurance, independence…” Kanuganti says, “we hear how we are changing people’s lives over and over again. Yet the most typical reaction is just, ‘Wow.’”
Among those wowed by Aira early on was esteemed serial entrepreneur Larry Bock. Visually impaired himself, Bock immediately realized the transformative potential of Aira and was instrumental in its rise. Although Bock passed away in July 2016 at age 56, Kanuganti continues his commitment to making a difference.
“We are going to honor him by making Aira successful,” says Kanuganti. “He has been involved with lots of companies, but this was a cause that was near and dear to his heart.”
Kanuganti and his team of innovators won’t slow down anytime soon. In fact, the company is exploring new avenues for the technology, more ways to help diverse populations of varying abilities. “I’m hoping that Aira can become a utility for not just blind and visually impaired individuals, but for everyone,” says Kanuganti. “I know Larry would have been proud.”