Three years ago, we heard about a prototype shoe that could be used to guide the wearer via haptic feedback. Designed by Anirudh Sharma, who was then a researcher at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Bangalore, India, the Lechal shoe was intended for use mainly by the blind. This week, however, Sharma and business partner Krispian Lawrence announced that the production version of the Lechal will soon be available for preorder, and it's aimed at helping all people navigate the city streets.
There are actually two Lechal products – a complete set of shoes, and polyurethane insoles that can be put inside existing shoes.
In both cases, they work by communicating with the user's smartphone via Bluetooth. That phone is running a dedicated Android, iOS or Windows navigation app. In order to guide the user from their current location to their destination, it lets them know where and when to turn by causing one of the shoes to vibrate – the left shoe for a left turn, and the right for a right.
Like other wearable navigation systems, this means that the user can walk with their hands free, and they don't have to keep glancing down at their phone ... although they also can check on their progress by looking at the phone's screen, if they want.
According to Sharma and Lawrence's company, Ducere Technologies, the shoes and insoles are antibacterial and washable, as long as the battery/electronics module is removed first, of course. They come with a two-battery USB charger that responds to audio cues such as finger snaps, by emitting an audio tone of its own that indicates the charge level of the lithium-polymer batteries.
One charge should be good for three days-worth of use.
Besides its use for navigation, Lechal can also be utilized as a fitness tracking system, as it's able to count steps, track calories burned, and create interactive workouts. It'll also buzz your shoes to let you know you've left your phone behind, or if you're traveling and are near points of interest – in the latter situation, you'd proceed to check the app display to see what the point of interest is.
All that being said, the footwear still is also intended for use by the blind, with profits from commercial sales helping to subsidize getting the technology to the underprivileged. "Lechal," by the way, is Hindi for "Take me there."
Ducere will start taking preorders on March 7. Both the insoles and the shoes will be priced at US$100.
A demonstration of the system can be seen in the video below.