After the death of a visually impaired relative, Wataru Chino had no choice but to take action. In response to the tragedy, a Honda EV engineer developed a shoe navigation system, called the Ashirase (both product name and company name) that allows visually impaired people to use their feet for navigation rather than a cell phone or other visual aids. The tactile navigation system has earned financial support from Honda’s Ignition Incubator launch program and continues to gain traction.
The Ashirase system is two-part and consists of a dedicated Ashirase navigation application running on the user’s smartphone and a silicone shoe insert carrying a combined motion sensor and electronic compass. After the user programs their walking destination in the app, the shoe inserts will vibrate in different patterns and tempos – “walking forward” causes vibrations under the foot balls, “turning left” rubs the appropriate side of both feet and the speed at which the inserts vibrate indicates proximity turns or obstacles.
The idea of this system is to allow users to stay more aware of their environment while walking, using their feet to navigate, instead of stopping several times to consult with their smartphones or passers-by.
Currently, prototype inserts can only be used in low-top sneakers and shoes, but Chino is already planning to expand its footwear selection. “We are thinking about it [new footwear styles], and the idea is twofold at the moment, ”Chino told Engadget through an interpreter. “One is to try to change, by modifying [electronic] device so that the shape can fit into other types of shoes. “
“Otherwise,” he continued, “what we can do is change the yellow parts of this device to suit other types of shoes,” noting that the white “puck” part can be detached from the flexible yellow insert around the user’s feet and contains a variety of vibro navigation gyroscopes. The system has a reported battery life of one week when you use the navigation system for an average of three hours a day. The cartridge will initially be offered in generic small, medium and large sizes in Japan, but plans to offer more personalized equipment once the product hits the market.
The navigation system is currently a bit limited, based on the Google Maps API rather than the HD map source, as it will work as long as the navigation data signal is available. This means that the system may not initially work indoors such as shopping malls or hotels – although hiking trails, parks and other public land should not be a problem.
Chino and his team are reportedly considering including either a personal dead account (PDR), Wi-Fi-based positioning, or IoT navigation options to help users later navigate enclosed public spaces. The team also reportedly plans to add public transportation options to the program in the future.
The company plans to release a beta version of the Ashirasa system in Japan in October or November this year. Users will be able to use the plugin and application for free for one week before being asked for feedback. Following the public beta, Ashirasa executives expect the commercialized product to be ready by October 2022 and include a monthly subscription of 2,000-3,000 yen ($ 18-27).
Before that can happen, however, the startup is seeking an additional 200 million yen in additional funds – not including 70 million yen in capital already provided by the ignition program – to boost to full production.
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