Haptic shoe provides GPS directions for independent motion of blind, visually impaired
Users interact with a smartphone app to set their destination.
A haptic shoe that receives signals from a GPS-enabled smartphone allows the blind and visually impaired to walk independently, giving directions and alerting to obstacles.
Invented by Anirudh Sharma, this haptic technology system has been developed by Ducere Technologies and is being tested at the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Prevention of Blindness located in Hyderabad, India.
“The technology is named Le Chal, which means ‘take me along’ in Hindi,” Anthony Vipin Das, FRCS, principal investigator of the Le Chal–LVPEI study, said.
Mobility, orientation and obstacle recognition are key to personal independence for the visually challenged. White canes, sensor canes and guide dogs are the most widely used assistive techniques, but they have limitations.
Anthony Vipin Das
“Guide dog techniques are ruled out in developing countries because they are not allowed in public places. Similarly, electronic sensor canes may be difficult to use in heavy traffic places. Canes in general are safe but pose limitations in terms of orientation in new places,” Vipin Das said.
Some new systems involve providing audio feedback. But audio signals can be distracting because visually impaired individuals depend heavily on their sense of hearing.
“The idea of conveying directional information in a non-obtrusive and non-distracting manner, using haptic technology, seemed very helpful. Shoes were selected as an ideal medium because they are the most natural extension of the human body, and shoes always point in the direction a person intends to walk,” Vipin Das said.
How the device works
Vipin Das explained that Le Chal consists of actuators and vibrators located in the front, sides and back of the shoe. With the help of a proprietary app loaded to a GPS-enabled smartphone, the user can connect with the shoe via Bluetooth and interact with the app to set a destination.
“The app has been designed using various accessibility options to enable completely eye-free interface use. Once the destination has been set, the smartphone calculates a route and through a series of vibrations guides the user from one point to another. The front of the shoe vibrates to indicate to go forward, the left side to turn left and so on,” he said.
The shoe also includes sensors to detect obstacles such as sidewalks, staircases and manholes. The user is alerted and guided via a series of vibrations to navigate around the obstacle or to find an alternate route.
Images: Vipin Das A
There is extensive research under way by the Le Chal–LVPEI team to test various scenarios of using one shoe as opposed to two shoes. Obstacle detection also needs to be upgraded to deal with moving objects such as cars.
“We are starting a clinical study to test the shoe in all conditions and environments as a part of the Le Chal–LVPEI Study. We plan to test various paths with and without obstacles and fine-tune the precision with which we can guide individuals,” Vipin Das said.
An affordable technology
The initial experience with the shoe has been exciting and encouraging, according to Vipin Das, and patients’ acceptance and comfort levels have been high.
“It was highly encouraging to see how well our patients perceived the vibration and immediately responded to the signals, pointing to the exact direction. Currently, we are working on the vibration intensity, gradation, smart taps and many more features in the shoe,” Vipin Das said.
Ducere Technologies, the manufacturer of Le Chal, plans to produce different models of the system, ranging from navigation only to navigation and obstacle detection. The navigation only model is entering the manufacturing stage and is expected to enter the market this year.
The intention is to price the first product in line with a good pair of shoes, around 3,000 Indian rupees to 4,000 Indian rupees, which is around US$60 to US$70. The aim of the company is to make the haptic shoe accessible to all visually impaired people worldwide, which could amount to around 250 million potential users. – by Michela Cimberle