Over 285 million people in the world are visually impaired to one degree or another. In order to be at least somewhat independent, these people have had to rely on walking canes or specially trained Seeing Eye guide dogs to help them find their way around. This generally requires expensive training by specialized dog trainers, not only to teach the dog-basic obedience training, but also to train them in special skills that will enable the blind person to navigate around. Most guide dogs are capable of alerting the owner to any obstacles in his or her path, as well as steering the person around them.
Special canes operated by using echolocation, a process that sends out small sound signals that then bounce off of nearby objects. In this way the blind person is able to tell that something in nearby, but not necessarily what that object is.
Bluetooth shoes, however, promise to take aid for the visually impaired to entirely new levels by integrating electronic devices and sensors into the shoes, theoretically negating the need for canes or guide dogs.
How the Bluetooth Shoes Work
The Bluetooth shoes work in conjunction with a smartphone, which utilizes a GPS and map application.Â Both shoes contain a vibrating actuator that is inserted into the soles. When the smartphone detects that the user should turn left or right, the actuator in either the left or the right shoe will vibrate, alerting the wearer that it is time to turn. It is important to realize that, although the Bluetooth shoes use the smartphone’s GPS, it is not necessary for the smartphone to be connected to the Internet at all times. The maps, instead, can be downloaded to the phone’s memory, requiring only access to GPS afterward.
The Bluetooth shoes can even alert the wearer of any obstacles in the way, by using a sensor placed into the top of the shoes. Similar to the walking cane, the shoe’s sensors use sonar to scan the surrounding environment, causing the actuators to vibrate if it detects an obstacle.
How it Helps the Visually Impaired Be Independent
One of the most important things for anyone with a disability is the need to be independent, at least as much as possible. While a blind person will never be completely independent, and will often require help with certain tasks like reading labels and locating things on grocery store shelves, with the help of a pair of Bluetooth shoes they will be able to safely navigate on their own without the need for someone to walk with them in most situations. The GPS software, incidentally, can also be used for tracking purposes as well, meaning that should the person become disoriented or lost, a family member or friend will be able to locate them and come to their aid.
Where to Get Bluetooth Shoes
The Bluetooth shoes are currently being developed and tested at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in India, and are, now, currently unavailable for purchase. Before releasing the shoe to the public the developer, Anirudh Sharma of Bangladesh intends to finish fine-tuning the actuators to work with the GPS software. A fashion team is also being used to design the shoe itself, in order to be able to produce a shoe that is not only functional, but has the appearance of a traditional pair of shoes.