Baku, September 1 (AZERTAC). 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.
“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.
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.
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