‘Smart’ shoes a step towards helping the blind

SHOES with vibrating sensors to guide their wearer in the right direction will be among the innovative devices on display at a Scottish conference aimed at transforming the lives of blind people.

The shoes will be showcased at the Glasgow Science Centre. Picture: TSPL
The shoes will be showcased at the Glasgow Science Centre. Picture: TSPL

The two-day TechShare Europe event, organised by RNIB Scotland, will also showcase an audio-bracelet that enhances spatial awareness, created by Glasgow scientists, and smart glasses that use a special 3d camera to maximise the vision of partially sighted people.

Around 188,000 people in Scotland are blind or have suffered significant sight loss, and the numbers are expected to increase in line with the ageing population.

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High-tech innovations can potentially revolutionise the independence of people with low or no vision, RNIB Scotland director John Legg will tell the conference at Glasgow Science Centre today.

“This is the fourth year that Glasgow has showcased some of the world’s most accessible technology,” he was expected to say.

“We want to ensure that the Digital Age opens up the same exciting possibilities for visually impaired people as it does for the sighted population.”

One of the most exciting innovations on show is the Lechal shoes – pronounced “lay-chull” meaning “take me along” in Hindi – which are embedded with Bluetooth-connected sensors that link with Google Maps.

Created by Ducere Technologies in India, wearers set a destination on their smart phone and the shoes gently vibrate left or right to indicate which way to turn. Krispian Lawrence, Ducere’s chief executive, said: “Lechal is unique in the independence it can offer someone with sight loss.

“It includes simple things like first orienting the user before directing them, offering turn-by turn-navigation, or allowing the user to control their smart footwear through simple foot gestures or the volume buttons on their phone.”

Glasgow scientists have collaborated on the Audio Bracelet for Blind Interactions (ABBI), a lightweight band which emits sounds to help blind and partially sighted children to explore their surroundings better.

Stephen Brewster, professor of human-computer interactions at Glasgow University, said: “Blind children engage with their immediate environment much less than sighted children. Audio feedback from the ABBI bracelet helps them to build connections and spatial links between objects and the hand wearing the bracelet.

“We found participants were able to reach for objects more accurately.”

The smart glasses, developed by RNIB and researchers at Oxford University, incorporate a special 3D camera to separate and highlight objects ahead of the wearer.

Last year, the prototype won a £500,000 Google Impact Challenge award to develop a more compact version.