The “smart shoes” that warn the blind of obstacles

The “smart shoes” that warn the blind of obstacles

“Smart shoes” alert the blind when there are obstacles in their path.

Photo: Tec-Innovation / Daniel Gepp / EFE

Sensors are capable of turning any shoe into “smart” and warn its user, blind or visually impaired, about the presence of obstacles in their path and how to avoid them.

The Tec-Innovation company, in collaboration with the Technical University of Graz (Austria), has developed this innovation that aims to “Make the lives of people with visual problems safer”. The company motto is a declaration of intent: “one step ahead”.

The complete system includes a sensor with an LED light, which is located on the toe of each of the shoes, and a pair of buttons on the heels.

Sensors use ultrasound to detect objects and they alert the user through vibrations in the shoe itself or with sounds through headphones.

Smart shoes
Sensors turn any shoe into “smart” and warn a blind user about the presence of obstacles in their path and how to avoid them (Photo: EFE / Tec-Innovation / Daniel Gepp).

Early warning

The device warns of any obstacle located up to four meters away, although the user can decide how far in advance he wants to be warned.

So, for example, on a very busy street you can choose to receive alerts when the obstacle is at a shorter distance, such as one meter.

All these adjustments can be made from the buttons of the shoe themselves, or through a mobile application -necessary to use the sound alerts-.

“The alerts work like those of cars, the closer you get to the object, the sound or vibrations are faster,” explains Kevin Pajestka, founder of Tec-Innovation, to Efe.

“If the right shoe detects the obstacle, you hear the sound through the right earbud or feel the vibration in that foot, which means you can go to the left,” says Pajestka.

The system has a “smart” function that recognizes when the user has stopped in front of an obstacle -if it stays still for more than three seconds- and stops sending the alert, as, for example, when it is in a queue.

Finally, the led light is designed for those with reduced visibility, since it can be turned on when there is an obstacle nearby so that users can see it.

European recognition

For the development of the product, the company tested the prototypes with blind people, the first of whom was one of the company’s partners, Markus Raffer, which has reduced visibility.

“The printing was very good, the customers even wanted to buy the prototypes,” says Pajestka.

After five years of work, in September 2020 ‘InnoMake’ obtained European approval that recognizes it as a medical device, which opens the doors to sell it throughout the continent.

“Thus, our clients can obtain financing from public institutions or insurance to pay for the product, and being a medical device the possibility of being granted it is very high,” he adds.

The price of the complete product – the shoe with the sensors – is 3,840 euros, while separately the sensors cost 4,000 euros, and requesting on request that they adapt a pair of shoes to place the sensors is 400 euros.

The parts are sold separately because the customer can buy only the sensors, which can be used in different shoes, provided they are adapted.

Tec-Innovation offers the possibility of requesting free of charge through its website a test team that they send to all of Europe.

Future vision

“There are obstacles that the sensor cannot detect, such as stairs down or holes,” warns Pajestka.

To solve this problem, the company began in 2016 to develop a camera with artificial intelligence able to recognize a “safe area to walk”.

“In case of being in front of a hole, the alert could tell the user to slow down,” he explains, adding that these advances could allow the blind in the future not to need a cane to move on the street.

Although Pajestka mentions that this is only “a vision” because “there are people (blind) who do not want to put down the cane.”

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