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Vibrating Footwear Lets Visually Impaired ‘Feel’ Directions

technology

Indian wearable brand creates haptic shoes that help people with sight loss more easily navigate

Vashti Hallissey
  • 25 july 2014

Lechal’s footwear can guide the visually impaired through gentle vibrations, helping them to better navigate their environment with an intuitive and discrete wearable.

“LECHAL began as an academic project and was born out of the simple impulse to use technology to help the visually-impaired navigate their worlds better,” Sonia Benjamin, General Manager of the company, tells PSFK.

They are a major improvement upon standard assistive devices which communicate with the user through audio feedback. As the visually impaired depend heavily upon their sense of hearing, this can be very confusing.

Instead of using audio, LECHAL footwear interacts with users through haptics, a type of technology that recreates the sensation of touch. Wearers don’t need to listen to a spoken guide, as they can “feel” the directions through the shoes’ vibrations.

Lechal footwear users set a destination on a smartphone app, which is conveyed to the footwear via Bluetooth. The smartphone’s GPS tracks the users’ movements and interacts with an actuator embedded in the wearables. When it is time to change direction, the shoe that vibrates (left or right) indicates the way to go.

Lechal, which means “take me there” in Hindi, is India’s first innovative wearable technology brand. It was created by Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, graduates of MIT and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the founders of Ducere Technologies. Based in Andhra Pradesh, which is located in southeast India, Lechal is the country’s first innovative brand in wearable technology.

The shoes do much more than simply showing users which way to go. Users can tag destinations by tapping their feet, share their route with friends, set fitness milestones and track their daily activity. They are a wearable that can be used by anyone but which includes features which make them accessible to the visually impaired.

For example, Benjamin explains that the app and charging device can be controlled without sight:

Lechal includes features such as being able to control the App with just the touch of the volume buttons on a smartphone, which is a first. The world’s first interactive charger – one that responds with audio feedback if you just snap your fingers and even indicates with beeps the progress of the charging process – powers all Lechal footwear.

lechal_insole_pod_and_battery.jpg

Staying true to its design philosophy of inclusivity and accessibility, Lechal has created a charitable initiative to help the visually impaired.

Benjamin tells us:

We thought it only fitting that the proceeds from the sale of each pair of LECHAL footwear go towards subsidizing a pair for someone who is visually-challenged. This is called the LECHAL Initiative and we have partnered with the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad to make this a reality.

The footwear will be available to order later this year:

Lechal footwear can currently be pre-ordered on our site –www.lechal.com. We are currently in talks with retailers and e-tailers worldwide and aim to make Lechal available as widely as possible. We are looking to start shipping products in October.

Lechal footwear shows that haptic technology can make dramatic improvement to the devices disabled people rely on in their everyday lives. It’s a wearable that could make a big difference to the visually impaired, helping them to be more mobile and independent by making it easier to navigate the world around them.

LECHAL

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