Let your shoes lead you home

Let your shoes lead you home
Mr Lawrence with a pair of the insoles and GPS-enabled smart sports shoes that can direct users with a vibrating signal for turns.

NEW DELHI - Wizard Of Oz heroine Dorothy had only to click her red slippers together and they would spirit her home to Kansas.

Now, an Indian high-tech start-up is promising to do the same in real life with a new, GPS-enabled smart sports shoe that vibrates to give the wearer directions.

The fiery red sneakers, which will also count the number of steps taken, distance travelled and calories burnt, will go on sale this month under the name LeChal, which means "take me along" in Hindi.

The shoes come with a detachable Bluetooth transceiver that links to a smartphone app to direct the wearer using Google maps, by sending a vibrating signal to indicate a left or right turn.

They are the brainchild of Krispian Lawrence, 30, and Anirudh Sharma, 28, two engineering graduates who founded their tech start-up Ducere in 2011 and now employs 50 people.

"We realised that it would really help visually challenged people as it would work without any audio or physical distractions," said Mr Lawrence.

"But then we were trying it out on ourselves and suddenly we were like, 'Wait a minute, even I would want this', because it felt so liberating not having to look down at your phone or being tied to anything.

"The footwear works instinctively. Imagine if someone taps your right shoulder, your body naturally reacts to turn right, and that's how LeChal works."

Smart shoes aimed at specific demographic markets - such as dementia sufferers and children whose parents want to keep track of their movements - are already commercially available.

But Mr Lawrence and Mr Sharma believe their shoes will be the first to target mass-market consumers, and have focused on creating stylish, rather than purely functional, footwear.

As well as the red sneaker, they are marketing an insole to allow users to slip the technology into their own shoes.

They say they have 25,000 advance orders for the shoes, which will retail at between US$100 (S$125) and US$150.

The orders have come mostly through word of mouth and through the lechal.com website. But the company is in talks with retailers to stock the shoes in India and the United States.

It forecasts it will sell more than 100,000 pairs of the shoes, which are manufactured in China, by next April.

Wearable technology is a growing global sector. Market tracker IDC forecast in April that sales would triple this year to 19 million units worldwide, growing to 111.9 million by 2018.

The company says it could use a portion of any future profits to subsidise the shoes for disabled users.

For all the shoes' high-tech features, Mr Lawrence's favourite thing is that he no longer loses his phone - if the wearer moves too far from his phone, the shoes buzz to warn him.

"I'm a very forgetful person and the best part is that the shoes don't let you forget your phone," he said.

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