Austrian company Tec-Innovation recently unveiled smart shoes that use ultrasonic sensors to help people suffering from blindness or vision impairment to detect obstacles up to four meters away.
Known as InnoMake, the smart shoe aims to become an alternative to the decades-old walking stick that millions of people around the world depend on to get around as safely as possible. The currently available model relies on sensors to detect obstacles and warns the wearer via vibration and an audible alert sounded on a Bluetooth-linked smartphone. That sounds impressive enough, but the company is already working on a much more advanced version that incorporates cameras and artificial intelligence to not only detect obstacles but also their nature.
"Not only is the warning that I am facing an obstacle relevant, but also the information about what kind of obstacle I am facing. Because it makes a big difference whether it’s a wall, a car or a staircase,” Markus Raffer, one of the founders of Tec-Innovation, told TechXplore.
"Ultrasonic sensors on the toe of the shoe detect obstacles up to four meters away. The wearer is then warned by vibration and/or acoustic signals. This works very well and is already a great help to me personally,” Raffer, himself visually impaired, added.
The current version of the InnoMake shoe is already available for purchase on the Tec-Innovation website, for €3,200 per pair.
The advanced system is integrated in the front of the shoes, in a waterproof and dustproof case. It is powered by a heavy-duty battery that can last for up to one week, depending on use. The battery can be charged in just three hours, using a USB cable.
The next step for Tec-Innovation is to use the data collected by its system to create a kind of street view navigation map for visually impaired people.
"As it currently stands, only the wearer benefits in each case from the data the shoe collects as he or she walks. It would be much more sustainable if this data could also be made available to other people as a navigation aid,” computer scientist Friedrich Fraundorfer explained.