These boots are made for talking

Tags: News
HAVE someplace to go but don’t know how to get there? Ask your shoe. A haptic-enabled smartshoe, that is. Sync it up with a smartphone app that uses Google maps, feed in where you need to go...inbuilt sensors will track your movement to guide you along — a vibration on the right foot means take a right, a signal on the left foot means go left.

Taking wearable technology to the next level, a Hyderabad-based startup, Ducere Technologies, has developed these unique haptic shoes and insoles meant especially to assist the visually challenged. Those unable to read navigation devices can now use the shoes to go anywhere, anytime, with the help of a bluetooth device that will communicate with a smartphone via an app. And what better name for such a product than LeChal, which means ‘take me along’.

“These shoes are devised to work for a multi-modal system,” said Krisipian C Lawrence, co-founder and chief executive officer at Ducere. “They will know the distance travelled and the direction one is headed. They will also sense if the users are walking or jogging, and will take into account if a car, bus or other modes of transport are used.” Not just that, LeChal will notify you if the phone is not in close proximity, and when you travel to new places, it will give automatic notifications of the landmarks around.

That’s not all. For the sighted, especially joggers and bikers, these shoes can be an accurate way of recording distance covered and calories burnt. Tourists, too, can plug in their destinations and let the buzz in their shoes tell them where to go.

Sci-fi as it may sound right now, come September, this shoe can be yours for Rs 6,000-9,000. You can buy a complete pair or 8 mm insoles, in red or black options. To begin with, the company is looking at a 30-50 per cent subsidy for the visually challenged. Also, for now, it will be designed in India, made in China.

“We can plan on home manufacturing once we hit the one million mark or may be even slightly less,” said Law­r­ence, an engineer from University of Michigan, who set up Ducere with Anirudh Sharma, an MIT alumni. Lawrence, also a former US patent prosecutor, has got 24 global and Indian patents for his vibrating shoes.

Readying for a product launch, the three-year-old firm is in talks with various e-commerce sites as well as traditional stores, particularly those positioned in the health and fitness segment.

Also, it wants to position LeChal as a fashion brand. “We do not want to create just gadgets. These will be fashion tools, and technology will work in the background. We want to be a fashion house that constantly evolves with the needs of the people,” Lawrence said.

Like any other shoe, LeChal will wear out with use. But with water-resistant anti-bacterial coating and breathable fabric, its maintenance will be easy, he pointed out. Its bluetooth device is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery whose standby period is 10 days while a charge will last three days on typical usage.

The startup, that has about 50 employees and operates out of a small office with Lawrence’s glass cabin walls doubling up as a whiteboard, had raised about $2 million from three angel investors apart from putting in its own funds for this project. It is now looking to raise about $4-5 million shortly.

“We will use the fresh funds to promote LeChal by taking it to multiple markets, as well as plan for other products,” he said. Ducere is also working on 3-4 other products as well, but Lawrence is cagey about details. “All I can say as of now is that they are wearable products, but will not be worn on the feet.”

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