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.


Real-life ‘Iron Man’ suits to be mass produced by Panasonic

The dream of being Tony Stark in your own Iron Man suit has moved one step closer after Panasonic has announced its ‘powered suit’ will go into mass production. The suit will give the super-human strength to the wearer as well as being able to move at the speed of a gentle run for between two and three hours per charge.

The test version of the suit was able to lift objects weighing 100kg and run at a speed of 8km/h on a hill with a ten degree gradient. The mass produced version is designed to lift 30kg for long periods of time.

It won’t be long until people on the streets will be walking around with super-human strength as the suit is set to go on sale in 2015. And it might actually be within reach for many; Panasonic plans to sell the suits at the surprisingly affordable price of just 500,000 Yen (£2,900/$4,900).

A system of mass production is being created for this year and the company hopes to make more than 1,000 per year.

The suit is by no means the first that has been developed to allow superhuman strength but it is the first to be mass produced.

Developed by Panasonic subsidiary Activelink, the suit is powered by a larger version of the batteries used in smartphones and computers. The lithium ion battery powers a motor that allows the suit to grip and release.

It is also possible to programme the arms so they can be used for operations involving hammers and digging – with an attachable hammer and a scoop. The wearer of the suit uses grips near their arms to control the movements of the suit.

Panasonic now plans to partner with other major companies to sell the suit and is also considering the possibility of renting it.

The company sees the suits helping in short-term situations such as emergencies and natural disasters. When these type of suits become the norm they may be able to help save lives on a daily basis.

The suit gives a glimpse into the potential for robotics to aid and enhance human abilities; we can see future versions combining biometrics to aid the movement of those who have suffered physical injuries and disabilities.

It is rumoured that Panasonic is also developing a suit that can be worn under a spacesuit or diving gear to aid movement in different environments.


Image courtesy of Panasonic.