Check out Le Chal: World’s first interactive footwear that show the way

When Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma– two young techies wanted to create a tool to help the blind they didn’t know they are going to build something which is much more powerful and will be world’s first interactive haptic footwear.

Le Chal, launched in Mumbai on Tuesday, is a made-in-India shoe-smartphone combination navigation device that has taken wearable technology to a whole new level and could give shoe majors a run for their money.

Though Lawrence and Sharma had initially designed to help visually impaired with mobility through unobtrusive means, the duo soon realized that this innovation can be useful to everyone. They went on to create Ducere Technology and its own brand Le Chal. Based on haptic navigational system, the footwear guides the user towards their destination through simple vibrations.
“What really makes it different from any wearable gadget is that it also has a fun element added to it,” Lawrence said.

The user tells the phone his desired destination, which is translated into electronic commands using voice-recognition software. The app, which can be programmed to run in the background, fetches the local map of the area. The phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) tracks the person’s location in real-time, telling the actuator to vibrate when it is time to turn. The side of the shoe where the vibration is felt indicates which way to go. The vibration is weak in the beginning of the journey and starts to grow stronger as the destination approaches.

The app is compatible with both Android and iPhone devices and most of the operations can be performed using the volume keys.

Anirudh Sharma, a postgraduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, left his job as a researcher at HP Labs and teamed up with Krispian Lawrence, an electronics engineer turned patent producer. After living in the US for almost 3 years, Krispian left his lucrative job at one of the best Intellectual Property Law firms in the US and moved to India to start Ducere Technology.
When asked, why they chose to make such a product in India, Lawrence said, “We are a country of engineers, we are innovators. Why should all the gadgets be made outside our country?”
Besides the navigation, one can use the footwear for fitness and trekking too. “The footwear can count your steps and track your calories burnt. Through the app, the user can set goals and create custom workout sessions,” Lawrence said.

“You can go on a trek, discover new places and never get lost,” Lawrence said.
The footwear also allows the user to tag locations and set destinations by tapping your foot and can also act as a reminder.

“Le Chal won’t let you leave your phone behind,” the MIT graduate said.
What about safety? The shoe pod is equipped with an obstacle-detection mechanism. A sensor in the tip of the shoe, devised by Lawrence,  scans the vicinity using sonar, which emits ultrasounds that bounce off obstacles, indicating their presence.

“There’s also an emergency contact that can be saved on your phone. It wills end a message to your contact if you are in trouble,” he said.
For now, Lawrence has a larger plan—he wants to subsidize the cost of the footwear for the visually imapired.

“Every time you buy a pair of Special Edition footwear, one pair of Le Chal footwear will be subsidised for a visually challenged person,” Lawrence said.
Although each shoe is priced at $100 (Rs 6,000 approx), the subsidised shoe will be avialble to visually challenged for half the price, around  $40- $50 (Rs 2,000- 3,000).

The  footwear is still being tested at the LV Prasad Eye Institute, one of India’s biggest eye-health facilities. The challenge, Lawrence says, is to get the algorithm to tell an uncovered manhole from a flight of stairs, but he expects it to be able to do so in due course.

Le Chal footwear will be available for pre-order from 7 March and will be sold online. However, Lawrence says they are trying to work out a deal with retail stores in India. “We are in talks with some sports brands, but nothing’s confirmed yet,” he says.

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