Anirudh Sharma, an IT Engineer from Rajasthan Technical University has developed a system that offers non-obtrusive navigation for the visually impaired (Hat tip: Himanshu Khanna, Pixelonomics). Calling it Le Chal (Hindi for ‘Take me there’), Sharma conceptualized and demonstrated the system at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab Design and Innovation Workshop 2011.
The Le Chal system comprises of a pair of shoes, one of which is fitted with Vibrators, proximity sensors and a Bluetooth pad which is connected to an Android phone that calculates directions and real time location using Google Maps and the phone’s built-in GPS and compass module.
How It Works
The user simply needs to speak the final destination before the start of his journey and the Android app formulates the route, calculating turn by turn directions which are sent to the shoe wirelessly via Bluetooth. Depending on the directions or GPS coordinates and compass, different vibrators within the shoe placed at different positions, are activated to offer feedback to the user depending on the turn he/she needs to take. So essentially, the system converts navigation data into haptic feedback.
The vibrators also take into account feedback from proximity sensors, which detects physical obstructions upto a range of 10 feet. The intensity of the vibrations differ depending upon the proximity from the destination. For example, in the beginning of the journey the feedback is weaker, while as the user reaches closer to the destination the strength of the feedback increases.
According to Sharma, voice instructions can be distracting and wearable gear is obtrusive and attracts unnecessary attention. He says that the system has been designed to make it non obtrusive for the users. The shoes have been tested at a Bangalore based Blind-school. He intends to make 20 such pairs and distribute them to the visually impaired. He also wants to make the supporting app open source and publish a Do It Yourself guide on Wikipedia where other users and developers could participate and help in developing a better version. As per his presentation, the system costs barely a few hundred rupees to assemble with 8 mini vibrational motors costing Rs 90, a sole of specified dimensions, an Arduino Lilypad GSM+GPS shield custom made for Rs 400 or a wired version costing Rs 150 for all the components.
We think it’s definitely a great idea and although we’ve not experienced the implementation first hand, it’s good to see technology being leveraged to solve everyday problems faced by the differently abled. We’re just not too sure about the quality of navigation and GPS modules fitted in smartphone devices, because they aren’t always very accurate – especially Google Maps. Also, the naming convention for places is not too coherent in India, which makes offering accurate directions difficult.
A step in the right direction that should be taken up by a big brand for a wider scale. Seriously, when shoe companies and gadget makers can collaborate on fitness tracking devices, why not do something in this direction.
Image: from Anirudh Sharma’s presentation