Le Chal – A Haptic Shoe for the Visually Impaired

How nice would it be if the blind could walk around the streets without the white stick in their hand? That’s what Anirudh Sharma has been working since January 2011. Anirudh, who holds a Bachelor of Information Technology Engineering degree from Rajasthan Technical University, has developed a system called “Le Chal”, which is a Hindi translation for “Take Me There.” It helps the visually impaired to walk without having to carry their white stick in hand. Not just that, the system also alerts them about any potholes they come across while walking.

Le Chal Shoe

Sharma made his debut of the haptic (of or relating to the sense of touch) shoe design during an MIT Media Lab Workshop hosted at COEP, and was featured in MIT Review in August 2011. During the workshop, he created the first prototype of the haptic shoe and showcased it to the delegates. The shoe was instantly named “Le Chal”.

So what does Le Chal basically do?

Le Chal is a non-obtrusive navigation aid for the visually impaired, which is designed to send vibration signals about the direction one need to walk in so to reach the desired destination. The entire system is fitted to a regular shoe which is coded to parse Google Maps/GPS data. It is basically intended to assist the blind in finding their way to a specified geographical location, and also helps them avoid walking into ditches and potholes on their way.

Le Chal Design

The system contains an Arduino LilyPad which is the main circuit board and is placed at the back mid-sole region of the shoe. Along the sides of the shoe, there are four mini vibration motors placed (front, back, left and right), which are intended to inform the user about the directions. For instance, a vibration on the left side indicates that the user should turn left. The vibrations start out low, but build in intensity as the user nears points where he or she has to take a turn.

It also contains a Bluetooth Arduino LilyPad to sync devices and a smartphone with GPS enabled to pull the location data from the satellite.

How it works?

IT all starts with the user entering their destination on Google Maps, using their Le Chal Android app. The phone then converts the speech into text and communicates by Bluetooth with the LilyPad Arduino circuit board. Now following the directions given by Google Mas along with the location data from GPS, the phone gets the circuit to activate the vibrator depending on the direction.

A proximity sensor in the front of the shoe also alerts the user to obstacles, which it can detect from up to ten feet (three meters) away.

The shoes have had their trials in a Bangalore blind school. We intend doing about 20 shoes (priced at Rs 1,000 or $20 USD a piece) and distribute them to the visually challenged. After the feedback, we will make all the improvements suggested by the user group before going for future plans,” said Anirudh.

Vaishnavi Kasturi, a visually challenged girl who cleared CAT, said: “It’s a great option. Sometimes a white cane cannot sense big objects. They just don’t matter on a pothole-marked terrain like in Bangalore. The shoes could be very convenient. The proximity sensor is brilliant. It can help you spot small objects. For instance, in case of a pothole, there is one at virtually every step in Bangalore, the shoes could give out some warning by way of vibrations.”

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Joel Fernandes

Joel Fernandes (G+) is a tech enthusiast and a social media blogger. During his leisure time, he enjoys taking photographs, and photography is one of his most loved hobbies. You can find some of his photos on Flickr. He does a little of web coding, and maintains a tech blog of his own - Techo Latte. Joel is currently pursuing his Masters in Computer Application from Bangalore, India. You can get in touch with him on Twitter - @joelfernandes, or visit his Facebook Profile for more information.