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Video: Haptic-feedback shoes guide blind walkers

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

The footage in this video — which shows a man, a woman and a teenager walking down paths, around curves, up stairs and across streets — may not at first viewing seem remarkable. But the people in this video are blind — and walking without a cane or guide dog. Instead, they are being guided by their shoes.

These shoes, which TED Senior Fellow Anthony Vipin Das introduced us to at TED2013, use haptic feedback and GPS technology to guide the blind. Each pair contains electronic circuitry, sensors and small actuators that give the wearer feedback on their movement as they walk, vibrating to tell them when to turn or lift their feet. (See Katherine Kuchenbecker’s great TED-Ed lesson to the field of haptic technology, which debuted on TED.com just last week.) They use a voice-programmed app that reads local GPS maps and plan routes. They have sensors that note obstacles and tell the wearer to stop. The shoes can also read gestures from the walker — for example, two taps means “take me home.”

These shoes are called Le Chal, which means “take me there” in Hindi. And as Vipin Das shared in this Q&A with the TED Blog, they are being tested in their first clinical study at LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India. Expected to be available this year, the shoes can be pre-ordered at Ducere Technology’s website.

“It’s very encouraging to see the kind of response we’ve had from wearers,” Vipin Das tells the TED Blog. “They were so moved because it was probably the very first time that they had the sense of independence to move confidently — that the shoe was talking to them, telling them where to go and what to do.”

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