The latest in wearable technology isn't a watch or a ring, or anything even close to your hands. It's for your feet. And these new smart shoes are designed with a far more altruistic goal in mind than checking your stock portfolio at a glance or making a phone call to grandma. The Lechal interactive haptic footwear use technology to help the visually impaired navigate from one place to another.
Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, friends and tinkerers with a love for experimenting and designing innovative products, founded India-based Ducere Technologies in 2011, with the idea that such products can be "intuitive, non-obtrusive, and easy on the pocket." The Lechal shoe came about as a solution for the challenges faced by blind people, especially in the developing world.
Visually challenged individuals must use a cane, which can be cumbersome and requires using at least one hand; an auditory navigation system, which can be difficult to hear in crowded situations; or a guide dog, which are often cost prohibitive and not allowed in many public places in developing countries. Putting the navigation system in his or her shoes allows the individual to keep both hands free and lets the person listen to what's going on.
"Lechal" means "let's go" or "take me there" in Hindi.
The system consists of a smartphone app connected via Bluetooth to either the Lechal shoes or to a set of polyurethane insoles that can be put inside existing shoes. The shoes or insoles contain a haptic actuator, similar to the sort of vibration pack that attaches to some game controllers.
The user sets a destination in the app, which then uses GPS to determine the best route. As the user walks, the shoes indicate upcoming directions via direct tactile sensations: vibrating on the left side of the soles to indicate an upcoming left turn, for example. The shoes can also sense and communicate other information, such as obstacles in the way.
Not simply a navigation device for the blind, however, the Lechal shoes also are designed to be useful for people who can see perfectly well. It can be used as a fitness tracking system -- counting steps taken, calories burned, and monitoring and remembering workout routines. It can even tell you if you're near a point of interest, with the smartphone app providing more information about that place.
Here's a look at the Lechal promotional video:
The shoes and insoles are available for pre-order and priced around $100. The standard price serves to subsidize the cost for visually impaired or underprivileged individuals, who will be able to purchase the shoes for just under half that amount. The accompanying app will be available for iOS, Android, or Windows devices.
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