The LeChal shoe acts as a real-time GPS device that vibrates to prompt the user where to go, and can simultaneously record steps, calories and distance traveled
Many companies believe that they do not necessarily need to have consumers “wear” wearables, but instead they can incorporate and embed sensors into clothing and shoes.
This intuitive approach is behind a new smart shoe product from Indian startup Ducere Technologies. Their shoe, called “LeChal” (for “take me along” in Hindi), has a GPS-enabled heel that vibrates to direct the wearer to go either left or right.
Further functions of the LeChal wearable
- A fitness tracker recording the number of steps taken
- Calories burned
- The distance traveled
Originally conceived as a shoe for the visually impaired, the product is now being marketed as a full-on sports or active lifestyle product with mass-market appeal.
“We got this idea and realised that it would really help visually challenged people, it would work without any audio or physical distractions,”
Krispian Lawrence, co-founder and CEO of Ducere Technologies, said in an interview with AFP.
“But then we were trying it out on ourselves and suddenly we were like, 'wait a minute, even I would want this,' because it felt so liberating not having to look down at your phone or being tied to anything,"
Lawrence said, who founded the company with friend Anirudh Sharma in a small apartment in 2011.
The shoe’s detachable Bluetooth transceiver syncs to a smartphone app that uses Google Maps to direct the user.
The left shoe vibrates when the wearer is supposed to go left, and vice versa.
“The footwear works instinctively. Imagine if someone taps your right shoulder, your body naturally reacts to turn right, and that’s how LeChal works,”
The shoes’ buzzing cues complement the white canes used by blind people, and the company is already working with the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India for a clinical trial. But any person without vision problems can utilize the shoe as a real-time GPS device.
“The main idea is to give a person very subtle feedback about where they are going and in what direction,”
Sharma told Boston Magazine.
“It’s like a poke in your foot and keeps the hands free so they can find obstacles around them.”
Fitness enthusiasts who are keen on using the product’s exercise tracking capabilities may want the original fiery red sneakers that retails for up to $150 a pair. For the brand-conscious ones, they can opt to buy the insole version that can be used for any type of footwear.
The company claims 25,000 advanced orders through their website, with more sales expected as the holiday season approaches. Lawrence and Sharma say their company will subsidize shoes sold for the visually impaired.
The LeChal shoe is similar to the No Place Like Home GPS shoes made by Stamp Shoes and UK artist Dominic Wilcox in 2012. That handmade leather shoe had a GPS device inside the left heel and LED lights embedded on the front and top of the shoe to guide the wearer. But Ducere’s LeChal shoe uses haptic instead of visual cues.
Smart shoes and clothing could sell briskly along with wrist worn wearables and smartwatches to boost the market.
IDC estimates that sales of wearables would triple this year to 19 million units globally, and reach nearly 112 million units in 2018.