Now, shoes that can show the visually challenged the way

Feb 12, 2014, 09:35 IST | Ruchika Kher

There's great news for the visually challenged. Two Hyderabad-based entrepreneurs have created an interactive haptic footwear to facilitate easy and unobtrusive navigation

Krispian Lawrence (30) and Anirudh Sharma (29) were passionate about contributing to society and it was this passion that drove them to create interactive haptic footwear for the visually impaired. So far, they have launched a shoe and an insole under LeChal, an umbrella brand by Ducere Technologies (the company was also founded by them).

The interactive haptic shoe is available in black colour as well

“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 285 million visually challenged individuals worldwide. Yet, the most-used assistive device — the white cane — has changed little since the 1920s. While it is an effective aid, it falls short with respect to navigation, directions and orientation. Moreover, current assistive devices rely primarily on providing audio feedback. The visually challenged rely heavily on their sense of hearing to acquaint themselves with the environment and may find audio feedback a major distraction. This is where LeChal steps in and attempts to fill the gap,” states Lawrence.

One can also opt for insoles instead of a shoe since they provide similar benefits

Sharma explains that the footwear enhances the user’s navigation skills by pairing a smartphone app to a small actuator (a type of motor to control a system) that is placed in the sole. The user can enter their desired destination using the phone’s voice command, which then fetches the local map of the area and guides the user to their destination. It does this using a combination of the phone’s GPS system and special vibrations sent to the actuator. The shoes are intuitive and non-obtrusive, thus offering mobility and convenience.

The app connects with the shoe and gives a vibration in either of the feet for a each turn; such as vibration in left foot for a left turn

Any body can wear it
While the initial idea behind this project, in 2010, was to help improve the lives of the visually challenged, during the developing stage, Lawrence and Sharma realised its potential of being incorporated for consumers too. “The shoe can double as a fitness technology, since it can count your steps and inform you about the calories burnt. So, one can actually formulate a workout with this,” shares Lawrence.

Low cost for visually challenged
The founders have collaborated with the LV Prasad Eye Institute, who tested the product to ascertain if it actually works for the visually impaired. Along with that, the institute also acts as a channel through which visually challenged people can buy the product at subsidised rates. “We will price the footwear and the insole between R5,000 and R6,000 for mainstream consumers. The amount from the sale will be used to subsidise the production cost for the visually impaired,” he clarifies.

Easy to use
However, one question lingered: how will a visually impaired person activate the app on the phone when they need it? Lawrence specified that the shoe and the app are inter-connected; as soon as an individual wears the shoe, the phone app gets activated, automatically. One has to simply shake the phone and then call out the destination one needs to go to.

The LeChal product pack includes the shoe, insole, charger and an application which can be downloaded on an Android OS platform, and which is configured to the website. Pre-bookings for LeChal begin today, and orders can be placed via their website.

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Did you know?

>> The shoe enables visually active consumers to do a lot with gestures. For example, while walking if you spot your favourite restaurant, you can point your shoe in that direction and it will tag the place in your map.

(Left) Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, creators of LeChal

>> It also helps protect you from losing track of your phone. If you don’t have your phone on you, the shoe will give you an indication in the form of a vibration, reminding you that your phone is not with you.

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