When in an unfamiliar neighborhood, you might turn to your GPS-equipped smartphone for navigational help, or, if you’re feeling gregarious, you might ask a stranger for directions. Soon you may not have to do either: Your shoes may subtly guide you on your way.
That’s the promise of Lechal, a new kind of sneaker that vibrates to signal which way you should turn. Developed by the Indian startup Ducere Technologies, the Bluetooth-enabled shoes will sync with an app that uses information from Google (GOOG) Maps to steer the user toward her destination. A buzzing on the right foot signals an upcoming right turn, a vibration on the left means turn left.
Krispian Lawrence, Ducere’s chief executive, says that users will naturally translate the vibrations on their feet into directional cues. “Imagine someone tapping you on your left shoulder; you will instinctively turn left.” He and co-founder Anirudh Sharma, both graduates of MIT and the University of Michigan, originally conceived the shoes as an aide for the visually impaired—285 million people fall into that category, according to the World Health Organization—but realized that they could be useful for anyone.
In addition to serving as personal tour guides, the shoes will be personal fitness trainers, recording such data as calories burned and miles walked, as well as signaling when to speed up or slow down to achieve specific exercise goals. Users will also be able to tweak various settings, such as the intensity of the vibrations, when to indicate an upcoming turn (at 500 vs. 100 feet). “Because we’re on your feet,” Lawrence says, “we can pretty accurately detect your activity. We know if you’re walking, running, cycling, so our calorie count can be fine-tuned.”
Lawrence doesn’t want the tech to upstage the distinctive uppers, which look more like space-age moccasins than Adidas runners. He designed them in consultation with footwear industry experts with performance and usability in mind. “Our philosophy is, we’re not a technology company,” he says, “we’re a fashion company.” Still, the company will give people the option of buying insoles that can be hidden in their own everyday shoes.
After raising $2 million for product development, Ducere is looking for more funding to market the shoes. The company is currently accepting preorders and will offer worldwide shipping when the $100-to-$150 shoes are officially launched in September. Lawrence says he’s confident that Lechal will be in some brick-and-mortal stores by the holiday season.