Haptic Shoe For The Blind
Le Chal is an unobtrusive navigation aid for the visually impaired.
- August 2011
- By Vantika Dixit
Imagine walking down to the nearest grocery shop or a bus stop with your eyes blindfolded and you’ll probably get an idea how tricky outdoor navigation for the visually impaired can be.
Arduino Lilypad is the main circuit board, which is kept at the back mid-sole region of the shoe. The mini-vibrational actuators are placed on all sides for the directional haptic feedback so that an approaching turn triggers the vibration. See the slideshow for a full-coverage of how shoe-Le Chal works. Credit: Sujith Sujan
Sensitive towards the needs of the visually impaired people, Anirudh Sharma, 24, a young researcher at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Bangalore, worked over several nights to design a shoe for the blind. Unlike other existing aids that are available in the market for people with limited or no vision, this haptic shoe is simple and unobtrusive in design, uses low-cost readily available components, and provides tactile feedback to assist the visually impaired in their day-to-day outdoor navigation tasks.
To Sharma the first idea of a haptic shoe struck at the Design and Innovation workshop in Pune, Maharashtra, during 24-28 January, 2011. The workshop was organized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and the College of Engineering, Pune to engage and inspire students across all disciplines in Indian universities in inventing the future. During the workshop Sharma, along with two other technologists, created the first prototype of the haptic shoe and showcased it to the delegates. The shoe was instantly named “Le Chal” which is a Hindi translation of “Take Me There”.
At present people with limited or no vision depend either on walking canes, which help them detect obstructions, or seek help from friends and other people for assistance, or using voice-based navigation aids. The existing form of voice-based navigation aids can be very distracting for the blind as they mostly depend on their sense of hearing. Such devices are prohibitively expensive to buy too.
This motivated Sharma to create a shoe that could navigate the route for the visually impaired and lead them to their desired destination without hampering their hearing power or making them wear bulky stuff and look awkward on the street.
The unobtrusive design of Le Chal is its most significant feature. The system comprises of a mechanism that condenses complex geographical navigational information and lets the user feel the directional and proximity information through vibrations. The vibrators and proximity sensor put in one shoe of the pair enables the user to walk without any physical aid.
All that the user requires is a Le Chal shoe and a mobile phone with global positioning system (GPS). Once the user sets a destination on the phone before starting the journey, the Bluetooth communication between the shoe and phone does the rest. The phone fetches turn-by-turn Google maps data in the background and keeps updating the user with haptic feedback about the direction the user needs to turn to.
As soon as the user starts his or her journey, the GPS transmitter within the cellphone gets real-time location using Google Maps. The built-in compass in the GPS module calculates the direction user is walking in. When the turning point is approached a mild vibrational feedback activated in the shoe informs the user the direction he or she needs to turn to. The strength of the vibration depends upon the overall proximity from the destination, that is, vibration is weak in the beginning and is incrementally stronger at the end of the navigation task. The built-in proximity sensor of the shoe can detect up to 10 feet, informing the user of the surroundings and allowing him or her to make decisions and plan the next move.
Sharma is planning to release the code of Le Chal Android application and schematics to public through Arduino community channel. He is also planning to create a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) guide through an editable Wikipedia where users can participate and help him create better version of the technology. He is also exploring the idea of how the commutation data of multiple users could decrease the overall time.