All posts by Lucy Ingham

Best Foot Forward: the Haptic Shoes that Tell You Where to Walk

The world’s first interactive footwear has been launched in India by Ducere Technologies. Known as Lechal, the footwear uses haptic feedback to provide what the company is calling “complete eyes-off and hands-off navigation”.

Available either as a shaped, rigid insole or a shoe that resembles a soft Ferrari, Lechal works with an iPhone or Android app to provide accurate guidance on where to walk, run or cycle. The user inputs their destination and the app works as a satnav, running in the background on their phone to feed instructions to the shoes.

When its time to turn a corner the shoes buzz to let the wearer know. The direction of the turn is indicated by which shoes buzzes – right shoe for a right turn and left shoe for a left turn.

These shoes could prove a brilliant way to explore new places – no more hastily checking maps or smartphones to figure out where you’re going. Instead, you’d be able to confidently stroll around enjoying the sights without the fear of getting lost or looking like a gullible tourist.

The accompanying app plays well into this; it has the option of saving and sharing routes, which could lead to a global database of great sightseeing, cycling or running paths that can be accessed by any Lechal owner. For any tourists the app can also serve as a personal tour guide, providing info about notable sights as you pass them.

The shoes also have some appealing extras for fitness fans, including a pedometer, calorie tracker and the option to create personalised goals and workouts. The app has been developed to recognise different activities’ calorie counts, and the obligatory sharing options are here so users can brag about their achievements.

One of the shoes’ coolest features is the ability to record gestures. A certain movement with your foot –  such as lifting your heel – could be set to mark a location, allowing you to record places of interest with little effort. Or you could even become Dorothy; tapping your heels together could set you on your way home.

Of course gestures like this need to be relatively subtle to become popular. If you need to do wildly exaggerated movements in order for it to register then few users will be prepared to make themselves look foolish to save a bit of time.

Unlike many wearable tech products that quickly become vapourware, Lechal is actually on its way to market, with the insole version pegged for launch on 7th March. Better yet, its actually going to be affordable, with a target price of less than $100. No word yet on when the shoe version will follow, but it is expected soon after.

The purchase of a shoe will also do some good. Lechal was originally designed for use by blind people and has a lot of benefits for the visually impaired, so Ducere plan to use some of the profits from each pair sold to subsidise a pair for someone in need.


Image courtesy of Lechal.


Could this be the future of urban housing?

We’ve seen the future of urban housing, and it’s definitely modular. Dutch startup WOODstacker is developing wooden stackable buildings that are sustainable, quick to build and make for stylish but apparently affordable housing.

It’s no secret that our exploding population has led to a significant shortage in housing. The financial crisis had resulted in millions flocking to cities in search of work, and has left many living in less-than-ideal situations.

But while some solutions have been put forward, these are often entirely conceptual and rarely make their way into reality. WOODstacker, however, seems set to break the mould, having been selected for Amsterdam-based Rockstart’s Smart Energy Accelerator programme.

The brainchild of mechanical engineer Theo Bouwman and architect Jurrian Knijtijzer, WOODstacker units are rectangular in shape so that they can be easily slotted together to form larger structures. This makes them quick to build, meaning they could be vital in situations such as natural disasters where there is a sudden demand for new housing. “The 21st century is a fast and flexible time,” says WOODstacker managing partner Jurrian Knijtijzer. “We’re bring the normally slow and static real estate up to speed.”

The company says the units, which are built of wood and natural materials, are completely sustainable and very durable. It also reckons that the materials make WOODstacker healthier to live in than other modular, chemical-containing structures. And with increasing concerns about the health implications of airborne chemicals and nanoparticles, that could be a big selling point.

“We believe in [building] a cleaner and better world. The building industry is responsible for ¾ of the material consumption and 40% of the energy usage,” says Knijtijzer. “With the use of ecological materials and state of the art technology we can change this.”

With so many young people living in cities, WOODstacker could be ideal as urban housing for the under 35s. Two modules put together would create a 45m² one-bedroom apartment with a separate lounge and kitchen diner; a level of luxury that is rare for many city dwellers.

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The wooden design also has some aesthetic benefits that could make for attractive affordable housing. With a wooden finish there is no need for carpet, paint or wallpaper, so a WOODstacker apartment could be very cheap to decorate.

It’s not just housing that WOODstacker could be used for; the company thinks they would be perfect for everything from hotels or holiday homes to healthcare or nursery units.

But of course all of this is reliant on the availability of appropriate land. Cities might be crying out for more affordable housing but space is still an issue. We reckon WOODstacker might be able to make use of empty spaces such as old multi-storey car parks and industrial sites, but this would only work for certain areas.  Until cities figure out a way to create more ground space, the appearance of solutions such as WOODstacker will be patchy at best.


Images courtesy of WOODstacker.