Good vibrations: how guided shoes could help the visually impaired

Vibrating shoes put wearable tech boom to good use in India

An India-based technology company is using its new navigation-enabled footwear to help the visually impaired get around, using profits from its commercial business to make the technology affordable in developing markets.

Ducere Technologies’ footwear – its Lechal range of shoes and insoles – vibrates to guide people to their destination, using haptic technology.

Through its Lechal Initiative, the company has tied-up with the L V Prasad Eye Institute in India so that sales from its mainstream business will provide a 30 to 40 per cent subsidy for the visually impaired.

The Lechal footwear was initially conceived as an aid for the visually impaired. As the product developed, its commercial and fitness aspects were developed for all users as part of the wearable tech boom. Now, as the commercial side of the business launches, sales will enable the start-up to have a social impact too.

“In developing markets, where 90 per cent of the visually impaired population live, affordability can be an issue,” said Krispian Lawrence, co-founder, Ducere Technologies. “Our first priority [of the Lechal Initiative] is to make sure those markets have access to this technology at a very affordable price.

“The idea is that as our sales pick up, we want to increase the subsidy in proportion to that.”

The Lechal footwear connects to a mobile phone navigation app, such as Google Maps. Once the destination is selected, the phone can be put in the pocket and the wearer navigates to their endpoint without needing to look at the phone again.

Vibrations in either the left or right shoe communicate to the wearer when to turn. The bursts of vibrations get longer the closer you are to the turning point, starting from 500m away.

Ducere is also talking to eye institutes in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but the subsidy will prioritise the visually impaired in developing markets, said Lawrence.

When bought commercially, the Lechal insoles cost $149.99 and the shoes range from $149 to $200.

Launched in September, the company has taken 30,000 commercial pre-orders from individuals. It hopes to start shipping its footwear by the end of the year. Ducere is currently in talks with retailers, including in the Middle East region, and Lawrence hopes his wearable technology will be available in Dubai by January-February 2015.