Technology July 12, 2021
Smart shoe InnoMake warns visually impaired people of obstacles while walking
Tec-Innovation, a start-up medical device manufacturer in Austria that focuses on tech for disabled people, has come up with a pair of smart shoes for blind and low vision people. Called InnoMake, the smart shoe warns visually impaired people of obstacles in their way while they are walking in public.
Moving around independently in public places is a challenge for many disabled people, especially people who are visually impaired. Fire hydrants, potholes, steps, etc. are some of the obstacles people who are blind and low vision need to be careful about. Now, an innovative smart shoe aims to help them negotiate such obstacles and move around in a safe and independent.
Called InnoMake, the smart shoe Austrian start-up launched by Tec-Innovation, aims to make walking in public places safer for visually impaired people.
InnoMake has sensors that warn blind and low vision people about various obstacles in their way with acoustic and visual warning signals, as well as vibration feedback. InnoMake has a built-in battery, ultrasonic sensors, a processing unit, and a wireless connection to the smartphone. All of this is mounted in a water and dust resistant casing at the front of the shoes. This makes it tough and durable for any kind of weather.
Smart shoes for visually impaired people enable independence
Tec-Innovation partnered with the Graz University of Technology, Austria, to develop advanced algorithms to analyze the information provided by the sensors and cameras on whether the surrounding area is safe and free from any obstacles. InnoMake’s intelligent function automatically activates the sensor when the user is walking and stops when the user stops or sits down.
Tec-Innovation founder Kevin Pajestka developed a smart shoe for disabled people called Walkassist as a diploma thesis. This was designed to prevent falls for an elderly person with Parkinson’s disease. Pajestka realized his innovation could support many other disabled people. Along with co-founder Markus Raffer, who has a residual vision of four percent, Pajestka worked on developing the smart shoe for blind and low vision people as well.
“We involved people with visual impairments and restricted mobility in all stages of development so that the needs of a wide variety of users do not go unnoticed”, says Pajestka. “The Austrian Association in Support of the Blind and Visually Impaired with around 6,000 members is an important partner. This association continuously tests the product for functionality, usability, and comfort.”
InnoMake scores are high on all three factors – functionality, usability, and comfort. It is made of high-quality leather and can be easily fixed when worn or torn. These smart shoes for visually impaired people have no heels, which makes them comfortable to wear. The smart shoes come with metal tracks where the electronic device can be attached. The tracks have been designed such that users can attach and detach the electronic device as and when they need it. This means they can different shoes at any time. The battery in InnoMake lasts up to a week depending on usage and can be recharged using a USB-C cable. They are available for adults and children.
The innovative InnoMake sensors warn disabled people about obstacles with acoustic and visual warning signals, as well as vibration feedback. You can make adjustments in real-time with the button on the back of the device. The range can be adjusted up to four meters by briefly pressing the button. You can also check the battery charge level by pressing the button and activate the LED for better visibility. – Kevin Pajestka, CEO-Founder, Tec-Innovation
How the smart shoe works
The smart shoes detect obstacles and give warnings through pre-selected feedback. The first option is through haptic or vibration feedback. The vibration is provided directly on the shoe so the user gets a sense of any obstacle in front. The second option is acoustic feedback, which is received through a Bluetooth-linked smartphone or bone conduction headphones. Then, there’s visual feedback where the impulses are passed on through LED lights on the shoe. This also provides light in the dark. You can make adjustments in real-time with the button on the back of the device. The range can be adjusted up to four meters by briefly pressing the button. The makers advise the continued use of a guide dog while walking in public.
Gunter, a visually impaired person who was among the users to test InnoMake calls it comfortable to wear. “The sensor technology is like wearing a Tesla on my foot.” Another blind user Sami says walking in public places has now become easier. “The shoe and my guide dog are a very good combination since my dog avoids obstacles and the shoe indicates the obstacles to me.”
InnoMake is currently available on iOS. There’s an additional app that helps disabled users monitor the device’s battery status and use the shoe search function.
There are plans to develop InnoMake further. “Our research department is working to combine existing ultrasonic technology with our self-developed camera technology”, says Raffer. With modern image processing algorithms, supported amongst other things by Deep Learning, obstacles such as potholes or steps going downwards should also be detected in the future”.
InnoMake is currently priced at US$3,800 and there are plans to develop a more affordable product, say the founders.
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