Ever imagined your shoe being your guide to your workplace, college, Neighborhood Park or a shopping mall? They say nothing is impossible and technology and its unfathomable power keep surprising us time and again. Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, two men who love creating and experimenting always had an urge to use their passion effectively. Today we speak to the duo have created Le Chal-­‐ the world’s first interactive haptic footwear that will certainly change a lot of lives.

1. Tell us in detail about Le Chal (Features, Price, and Technology etc.)

LECHAL which simply means ‘take me along’ (lay-ch-al), in Hindi is developed with the vision to offer products that are intuitive and unobtrusive, facilitating every user to evolve to higher lifestyles, reaping the benefits of making technology work for them. It is the world’s first interactive haptic footwear, innovated in India and designed for EVERY ONE.

We initially designed LECHAL to help visually impaired with mobility through unobtrusive means; but soon realized that this innovation can be useful for everyone. We further developed to launch stylish footwear with interactive haptic-based navigational system guiding the user towards their destination through simple vibrations in the footwear.

LECHAL footwear is user friendly, it can help to save the most frequently visited places; choose the most convenient route along with the best mode of transportation. It functions based on an application which is loaded on a smart phone and is paired with the footwear via Bluetooth. The user can interact via voice commands and in order to keep it simple, most of the operations can be performed using the volume keys on your Smart phone. The phone’s GPS is used to calculate location data and the directions are conveyed to the user via haptics (simple vibrations) in the footwear.

Some of the unique features of LECHAL is that it offers a Hands free experience – one can give a voice command of direction to the application, user can Tag locations – with landmarks -. It also helps you stay Connected with other LECHAL users – where you can share routes as well.

Other features include:

Navigation:
The user simply needs to set a destination in the app, which then uses GPS to determine the best route.As the user walks, the shoes indicate upcoming directions via direct tactile sensations: vibrating on the

left side of the soles to indicate an upcoming left turn, for example. The shoes can also sense and communicate other information, such as obstacles in the way.

Fitness:
‘LECHAL’ footwear counts your steps, and tracks your calories burnt. Through the App the user can set goals, create custom workout sessions and much more. It can help count the steps taken, calories burned and monitor your fitness goals.

Interaction:
‘LECHAL’ footwear allows you to tag locations, set destinations, start/stop/pause navigation, and much more, all by executing simple foot gestures.

The shoes and insoles are available for pre-order and priced around $100 respectively.

2. What or who was the inspiration behind Le Chal? Was there any particular incident in your lives that inspired you to create a shoe that would facilitate easier commute for the community?
Ans. Both me and my friend Anirudh are passionate about tinkering and experimenting with design and
engineering and wanted to create inventive products in the wearable technology space that would offer
convenience to every user.

We also strongly felt the need to give back to the society through our innovations and LECHAL was thus developed as an effort to combine the two.

According to WHO there are an estimated 285 million visually challenged individuals worldwide. The white cane, while an effective aid, falls short with respect to navigation, directions and orientation. Moreover, current assistive devices rely primarily on providing audio feedback. People who are visually challenged rely heavily on their sense of hearing to acquaint themselves with the environment and may find audio feedback a major distraction.
This is where LECHAL steps in and attempts to fill the gap. LECHAL is our attempt of creating a technology that can be an enabler for the visual impaired. It’s intuitive haptic feedback (simple vibrations) is a Perfect Companion to the white cane, overcoming its drawbacks.

3. Do you think your creation will be life changing for the visually impaired community? How will it benefit the users?

I certainly hope so, that is the main idea behind this product; to make life simpler and more fulfilling for the community. As mentioned, the number of visually impaired worldwide is high and is growing at a fast pace owing to lifestyle diseases like diabetes, blood pressure and lack of proper treatment and we wanted to contribute in helping this community to lead a normal life.

We have tied up with L V Prasad Eye institute in Hyderabad to subsidize the cost of the footwear for the visually challenged. For every pair of LECHAL lifestyle tech enabled footwear in the market, we will sell a pair at a subsidized rate to a visually impaired person. The subsidy will be between 30 and 50 per cent to begin with, but the ambition is to make it available to them for $1. It is our own small way to ensuring that everyone from the community benefits from the product.

4. How have people responded to your creation?
The response has been really good. We have had several organizations contact us with interest on making this technology available to their customers

5. Did you test Le Chal with the visually impaired community? What was their reaction?
The globally renowned L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, is currently working on the world’s first study, testing LECHAL footwear for its effectiveness as an assistive device. Through this powerful, intuitive, unobtrusive footwear, LECHAL hopes to provide people who are visually challenged the confidence to independently move around in familiar and unfamiliar areas. The Institute will be sharing findings of this study in April this year.

5. Will there be phases to the launch of the product?
Yes, the first phase will see the launch of the in-soles by March end and will be followed by the next when we launch LECHAL shoes by mid of April.

6. What are the challenges you faced while creating the shoe?
Initially, there were several challenges, from funding to finding the right talent, to finding the right manufacturing vendors. But now, things have fallen into place and we are currently in an expansion phase.

7. How could one buy this product? Will it be available internationally?
Initially we are taking orders through our website and will be shipping the products to all parts of the world. So anyone interested can book here http://www.lechal.com, pay through Internet banking or credit cards and the products will reach them, no matter which part of the world they are in.

8. Tell us something about the team behind Le Chal. How do the two of you function together?
We started off as 2 guys in an 800sqft apartment. Today we have grown to a team of 35, hardware engineers, software engineers, product designers and footwear designers.