[nfb-talk] The GPX Shoes:

Kenneth Chrane kenneth.chrane at verizon.net
Fri Oct 18 01:58:01 UTC 2013

> A haunting black-and-white video screened during the
> TED Fellows talks
> depicted people speaking into a device and then walking - at first taking 
> halting steps, then more confident strides. As the video unfolds, the 
> camera
> zooms in on the faces of the walkers - revealing that they are blind.
> With his team, TED Senior Fellow Anthony Vipin Das, an eye surgeon, has 
> been developing haptic shoes that use vibration and GPS technology to 
> guide the
> blind. This innovation - which could radically change the lives of the 
> vision-impaired - has drawn the interest of the United States Department 
> of Defense,
> which has recently shortlisted the project for a $2 million research 
> grant. Anthony tells us the story behind the shoe.
> Tell us about the haptic shoe.
> The shoe is called Le Chal, which means "take me there" in Hindi. My team, 
> Anirudh Sharma and Krispian Lawrence and I, are working on a haptic shoe 
> that
> uses GPS to guide the blind. The most difficult problems that the blind 
> usually face when they navigate is orientation and direction, as well as 
> obstacle
> detection. The shoe is in its initial phase of testing: We've crafted the 
> technology down to an insole that can fit into any shoe and is not limited 
> by
> the shape of the footwear, and it vibrates to guide the user. It's so 
> intuitive that if I tap on your right shoulder, you will turn to your 
> right; if I
> tap on your left shoulder, you turn to your left.
> The shoe basically guides the user on the foot on which he's supposed to 
> take a turn. This is for direction. The shoe also keeps vibrating if 
> you're not
> oriented in the direction of your initial path, and will stop vibrating 
> when you're headed in the right direction. It basically brings the wearer 
> back
> on track as we check orientation at regular intervals. Currently I'm 
> conducting the first clinical study at LV Prasad Eye Institute in 
> Hyderabad, India.
> It's very encouraging to see the kind of response we've had from wearers. 
> 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.
> How do you tell the shoe where you want to go?
> It uses GPS tracking, and we've put in smart taps: gestures that the shoe 
> can learn. You tap twice, and it'll take you home. If you lift your heel 
> for
> five seconds, the shoe might understand, "This is one of my favorite 
> locations." And not just that. If a shoe detects a fall, it can 
> automatically call
> an emergency number. Moving forward, we want to try to decrease the 
> dependency on the phone and the network to a great extent. We hope to 
> crowdsource maps
> and build up enough data to store on the shoe itself.
> The second phase we are working on is obstacle detection. India has got 
> such a varied terrain. The shoe can detect immediate obstacles like 
> stones, potholes,
> steps. It's not a replacement for the cane, but it's an additive benefit 
> for a visually impaired person to offer a sense of direction and 
> orientation.
> Are you still in the development stage?
> The insole is already done. We are currently testing it. I'm using simple 
> and complex paths - simple paths like a square, rectangle, triangle and a 
> circle,
> and complex paths include a zigzag or a random path. Then we are going to 
> step it up with navigation into a neighborhood. From there we'll develop 
> navigation
> to distant locations, including the use of public transportation. It will 
> be a stepwise study that we'll finish over the middle of this year, then 
> go in
> for manufacturing the product.
> You're an eye doctor. How did you get involved in this?
> I'm an eye surgeon who loves to step out of my box and try to see others 
> who are working in similar areas of technology that are helpful for my 
> patients.
> So Anirudh Sharma and I, we're on the same TR35 list of India in 2012. I 
> said, "Dude, I think we can be doing stuff with the shoe and my patients. 
> Let's
> see how we can refine it." There was already an initial prototype when he 
> presented last year at EmTech in Bangalore. Anirudh teamed up with one of 
> his
> friends, Krispian Lawrence of Ducere Technologies in Hyderabad, who is 
> leading the development and logistics to get this into the market. We just 
> formed
> a really cool team, and started working on the shoe, started testing it on 
> our patients and refining the model further and further. Finally we've 
> come
> to a stage where my patients are walking and building a bond with the 
> shoe.
> Are these patients comfortable with the shoe?
> Yes, it's totally unobtrusive. And more importantly, we are working on 
> developing the first vibration language in the world for the Haptic Shoe. 
> We're
> looking at standardizing the vibration, like Braille, which is 
> multilingual. But even more crucial than the technology, the shoe is 
> basically talking to
> the walker. How they can trust the shoe? So that's an angle that we are 
> looking at. Because at the end of the day, it's the shoe that's guiding 
> you to
> the destination. We're trying to build that bond between the walker and 
> the sole.
> Building a bond with the sole. That's good. I'm going to use that.
> Valerie Duffy, MSW
> Visual Impairment Coordinator
> Phone:  208-422-1228
> "We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the 
> very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something 
> useful,
> with our lives. If you contribute to other people's happiness, you will 
> find the true goal, the true meaning of life." ~ HH, the 14th Dalai Lama

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