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Haptic shoe could replace the white cane

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October 17, 2011

Le Chal is a navigational device for the blind, that guides them to their destination via ...

Le Chal is a navigational device for the blind, that guides them to their destination via vibrations in one of their shoes

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Within just the past few years, scientists have developed an impressive number of experimental systems designed to help the blind navigate city streets. These have included devices that mount on the wrist, are incorporated into glasses, are worn as a vest, and that augment a traditional white cane. A young researcher at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Bangalore, India, however, has come up with something else - a navigational device for the blind that's built into a shoe.

Anirudh Sharma's system is called Le Chal, which is Hindi for "Take Me There." It is intended primarily to assist users in finding their way to specific geographical locations, although it also helps them avoid walking into things on their way there. Sharma designed the first prototype in January, while attending MIT's Design and Innovation workshop in the Indian city of Pune.

The layout of LeChal, with its LilyPad Arduino circuit board and four vibrators

The basic idea behind Le Chal is that one of the user's shoes will provide haptic feedback, guiding the user toward their destination by vibrating in the front, back, or on either side - a vibration on the front indicates that they should keep going straight, a vibration on the left side means that they should turn left, and so on.

The user begins by entering their destination on Google Maps, using their Le Chal-app-running Android smartphone. That phone then communicates by Bluetooth with a LilyPad Arduino circuit board, located in the heel of the shoe. Following the Google-supplied turn-by-turn directions, along with locational data from its own GPS unit, the phone gets the Arduino to activate each of the shoe's four vibrators as needed. The vibrations start out low, but build in intensity as the user nears points where they have to turn.

A proximity sensor in the front of the shoe also alerts the user to obstacles, which it can detect from up to ten feet (three meters) away.

While there is no word of Le Chal being marketed any time soon, Sharma is planning to release the code for the app and the schematics for the shoe, via the Arduino community. He also plans on creating a Do-It-Yourself guide on Wikipedia, which users can update with their own improvements to the system.

Source: Technology Review India, Anirudh Sharma.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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4 Comments

This is a great idea and I think that it will do a lot of good, but I do hope that the blind keep their white canes because they let the rest of us know they are sight impaired and to watch out for any unexpected movements from them.

Andrew Jacks
17th October, 2011 @ 06:07 pm PDT

I suspect they will still need that white cane, unless the system can detect sudden drops!

Great idea with a few shortcomings that may be overcome eventually!

livin_the_dream
18th October, 2011 @ 08:41 am PDT

These are good BUT nothing stands out quite like a white cane and there is nothing like high tech to end you up in the shit... like crossing a street and not detecting a car or cyclist...

Mr Stiffy
18th October, 2011 @ 05:28 pm PDT

This is one of the best uses of technology I have seen in awhile; although, in addition to the legally blind, perhaps this shoe should also be mandatory for those knuckleheads who insist on walking down the street while texting.

Sean Michael McCord
4th December, 2011 @ 04:07 am PST
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