Great ideas are all around you, and more often than not, your best designs will be born out of necessity. A drive to provide a solution to a problem that exists in your society. For Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharm, they wanted to create smart shoes that would be an improvement on walking and navigation aids for the visually impaired. Through Ducere Technologies, a start-up they founded in 2011, they launched Lechal (pronounced lay-ch-al, which is “take me there” in Hindi). It’s a haptic footwear device, which uses vibrations at your feet to allow users to navigate directions. Their primary target is the visually impaired, which WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates to be approximately 285 million globally and the majority mostly being in India. Nevertheless, they also wanted to make an inclusive device that serves the community at large. It took five years, 15 prototypes, a core team of over a 100, and countless hours of hard work sprinkled with a few eureka moments, to make the Lechal. And this is how they made an all-inclusive product:
The Indian wearable tech start-up began at reviewing the options available. The white cane, which is the most common, tends to fall short when it comes to orientation, direction and navigation. On the other hand, most assistive devices on the market use audio as their form of feedback. Seeing as the visually challenged rely heavily on their hearing, constant audio feedback may be a distraction to how they acquaint themselves with their surrounding environment. For a more unobtrusive approach, the duo decided to turn to touch; another sense that is highly developed due to their impairment.
Through an interactive, haptic based navigational system, the user can be invisibly but intuitively guided to their destination through gentle vibrations in their shoes.
Through an interactive, haptic based navigational system, the user can be invisibly but intuitively guided to their destination through gentle vibrations in their shoes. The user would set the destination on their phone, and using the phone’s GPS, it calculates the location data to convey directions. Once the shoes are synched to the Lechal app via Bluetooth, haptics are initiated to show the user the way. If the wearer needs to turn left, the left foot would sense vibrations while a right turn would get the right shoe buzzing.
What is in a Lechal Pack?
Lechal comes as black or red shoes that retail at $100-$150. But with the inclusivity element in mind, it also comes as an insole and buckles that you can fit into most closed shoes. The insoles have a docking mechanism that fits pods directly under the foot arch. Alternatively, you can dock the pods on the buckles that attach to the laces; opening up the variety of shoes this can work with. It’s these two pods that track movement and location, as well as, pair with the Lechal app. Through the app, you can configure each pod for the shape type and the leg it’ll be worn on.
The pods also work on offline and outdoor navigation modes, allowing the user to move around without data connectivity. It comes with a rechargeable battery that slide into the very back of the insole or behind the shoe’s heel. The battery lasts 15 days and is referred to as the “world’s first interactive charger” because with a snap of your fingers, it audibly communicates the battery’s charge level. And if the insole is too big for your shoe size, it can easily be trimmed along the marked size guidelines.
Wearable Tech Benefits
Lechal wants you to look up. To really take in the world around you with all your senses, instead of looking at your phone all day. So it’s intentionally designed to be sleek, minimalistic and comfortable to seamlessly blend into your lifestyle. Thus, In addition to directions, Lechal works for users who desire fitness metrics. It keeps track of calories burnt, steps taken, and distance covered. However, Lechal wants to give its users a more holistic workout by providing accurate analytics. Unlike other fitness bands that monitor hand movement and thus approximate distance covered via motion-detection, Lechal only detects foot movement. So, it won’t pick up the random hand gestures as part of your fitness data.
Lechal also dares users to strive for more. Therefore fitness enthusiasts can set goals, such as calories or distance oriented goals, and the pods will vibrate once you’ve hit the goal. The benefit of keeping a log of all your fitness activities and goal wish list, is it can even suggest routes based on your fitness metrics to help you achieve your fitness objectives. Because they want it to be a hands-free experience, there’s the option of setting mini-milestone goals throughout you routine that will vibrate once you’ve achieved one. And if you don’t want to take your phone on your next run, you can switch on the untethered mode, which will store the fitness data in your pods until you get back into proximity with your phone. But if you can’t live without your smartphone you can program your footwear to alert you if you’re leaving the house without it.
Got wanderlust in your bones? This piece of tech is perfect for you. Travellers can spend more time taking in all the new scenery and leave the navigation to their feet. Before setting out, there’s the option of marking places of interest, such as restaurants, ATMs and historical landmarks, on your phone. It’s also helpful to mark multiple stops you’d like to make before your final destination using Lechal’s waypoint reminders. This way, it can send reminders or notifications when you’re close or at these specific vicinities. Going to a place that isn’t Wi-Fi complaint, save your destinations pre-travel and you’ll be able to access them via the offline mode.
And for the real explorers out there, you can discover the road less travelled and record the trail. If you’ve ever had to use Google maps outside of the urban areas, you know how important a feature like this can be. It essentially gives the user the power to create their own travel guide that they can use to find their way back to camp and store for future use. Sharing is caring, and this app enables users to share their locations with other users. So if you’re travelling in a big group you can keep track of all your members. This feature may be of particular interest to parents and families when they’re out and about with their children.
For most, $150 can be a steep order. Ducere Technologies acknowledges this and explains that higher sales of Lechal footwear would considerably lower their cost. This is because they have already dedicated a portion of the sale proceeds to subsidizing pairs for the visually challenged. They’re also thinking about the future of the Lechal app for all consumers. They’re working on a software development kit (SDK) that will make their custom software a platform for other developers to create apps for their product.
That said, Lechal is an impressive addition to the footwear industry. It’s an inclusive design that puts a lot of thought into solving problems and responding to the needs of today’s society. By aiming to be a natural extension of the user, each person can navigate ‘hands-free, hassle-free and with their heads up’! It’s a perfect example of designing with purpose.