Footwear for the blind. Bluetooth shoes
July 16th, 2012

The tools to assist the blind in walking have changed little since the 1920s. This may change if Anirudh Sharma, a 24-year-old computer engineer from Hyderabad, a city in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, has his way.

His innovation, dubbed “Le Chal” (“take me along” in Hindi) pairs a smartphone app with a small actuator sewn inside the sole of one shoe via Bluetooth. The user tells the phone his desired destination, which is translated into electronic commands using voice-recognition software. The app, which can be programmed to run in the background, fetches the local map of the area. The phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) tracks the person’s location in real-time, telling the actuator to vibrate when it is time to turn. The side of the shoe where the vibration is felt indicates which way to go. Mr Sharma opted for a vibrating signal because for the blind, who rely on their sense of hearing to make sense of the environment, audio feedback is a distraction.

The system does not require constant internet access. Once downloaded, maps can be stored locally and combined with GPS data. The app uses Open Street Maps (OSM), an open-source rival to Google Maps. OSM allows editing, a helpful feature in updating rapidly changing urban landscapes. A speed-dial function can rapidly retrieve the most frequently visited routes.

Read the full report on this story by A.A.K. MUMBAI on his Economist blog post


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