India

Indian start-up launches shoes that show you the way

Indian start-up launches shoes that show you the way

SMART SHOES: CEO of Ducere Technologies, Krispian Lawrence poses with the inner soles, left, and a pair of GPS-enabled smart sports shoes, to be marketed under the name ‘LeChal’ in Hyderabad. (AFP)AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE NEW DELHI: “Wizard of Oz” heroine Dorothy only had to click her ruby red slippers together and they would spirit her home to Kansas. Now, an Indian high-tech start-up is promising to do the same in real life with a new, GPS-enabled smart sports shoe that vibrates to give the wearer directions. The fiery red sneakers, which will also count the number of steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned, will go on sale in September under the name LeChal, which means “take me along” in Hindi. The shoes come with a detachable Bluetooth transceiver that links to a smartphone app to direct the wearer using Google maps, sending a vibrating signal to indicate a left or right turn. They are the brainchild of 30-year-old Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, 28, two engineering graduates who founded their tech start-up Ducere in a small apartment in 2011 with backing from angel investors and now employ 50 people. “We got this idea and realized that it would really help visually challenged people, it would work without any audio or physical distractions,” said Lawrence in an interview with AFP. “But then we were trying it out on ourselves and suddenly we were like, ‘wait a minute, even I would want this,’ because it felt so liberating not having to look down at your phone or being tied to anything.” “The footwear works instinctively. Imagine if someone taps your right shoulder, your body naturally reacts to turn right, and that’s how LeChal works.” Smart shoes aimed at specific demographic markets — such as dementia sufferers and children whose parents want to keep track of their movements — are already commercially available. But Lawrence and Sharma believe theirs will be the first to target mass-market consumers, and have focused on creating stylish rather than purely functional footwear. As well as the red sneaker, they are marketing an insole to allow users to slip the technology into their own shoes. “Earlier, wearable technology was always seen as machine-like, nerdy glasses or watches, but now that is changing,” said Lawrence. They say they have 25,000 advance orders for the shoes, which will retail at between $100 and $150. Demand has so far mostly been through word of mouth and through the lechal.com website. But the company is in talks with retailers to stock the shoes ahead of the holiday season in India and the United States. It forecasts it will sell more than 100,000 pairs of the shoes, which are manufactured in China, by next April. Wearable technology is a growing global sector. Market tracker IDC forecast in April that sales would triple this year to 19 million units worldwide, growing to 111.9 million by 2018. The industry’s rapid growth has given rise to fears about privacy, although Ducere says it will record no data on users and maintains robust security. The company still hopes its product will be useful for visually impaired people, and experts at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in the southern city of Hyderabad are testing its suitability. “It’s a perfect intuitive wearable item. You may forget to wear a belt or a helmet, but shoes you can never leave the house without,” said Anthony Vipin Das, a doctor at the institute. “LeChal solves orientation and direction problems, it’s a good assistant to the cane.” Possible problems include battery failure or loss of Bluetooth connectivity, which Das says could be fixed by providing a live feed of a user’s position to a friend or relative, with their consent. The company says it could use a portion of any future profits to subsidise the shoes for disabled users. For all the shoes’ high-tech features, Lawrence’s favorite thing is that he no longer loses his phone — if the wearer moves too far from his or her phone, the shoes buzz to warn them. “I’m a very forgetful person and the best part is that the shoes don’t let you forget your phone,” he said.

New Delhi takes steps to end corruption in hospitals

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Saturday ordered a review of activities at all state-owned hospitals to end what the health minister called systemic corruption, as part of the new administration’s crackdown on malpractice in the health care sector. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has vowed to eradicate graft in India’s $74 billion health care industry, where doctors receiving extra payments for referring patients to a particular clinic or receiving gifts from companies for prescribing their drugs are common. “There are many aspects to corruption in hospitals which as a medico I know exist,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a statement. “If money is made in the allocation of beds or as kickbacks from suppliers, it is sleaze. What is equally corrupt is the silent practice of reserving beds and facilities for employees or VIPs.” Private companies dominate India’s health care system, while government hospitals are overcrowded and lack the resources to cater to growing demand. Though the industry is growing at 15 percent per year according to consulting firm PwC, public spending on health care has stagnated at about 1 percent of gross domestic product for years. That compares to 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States, according to a World Bank database for 2012. The review ordered on Saturday would also apply to New Delhi’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where thousands of patients queue up daily for subsidized treatment. The government crackdown started last month after a media report exposed alleged kickback arrangements between diagnostic laboratories and doctors in India’s capital. In recent months, leading doctors and advocacy groups have teamed up to try to root out corruption from the system, forming anti-graft panels at hospitals and writing open letters to the government. - REUTERS

KCR Changes Stand On Hyderabad Metro Rail Design

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has apparently changed his stand on the Hyderabad Metro Rail project. KCR, who had earlier asked the Metro Rail authorities to go in for underground tracks at some places, has indicated that the project would go ahead with some changes just in its alignment. Chatting with reporters at his camp office, KCR said that the Metro Rail route would be changed near the Assembly building and Sultan Bazar to ensure that no damage was cause to the heritage structure and the busy market respectively. Similarly, slight modifications would be made to the design of the rail for the section near the Moazzam Jahi Market to ensure protection of heritage structures. The Chief Minister also praised the last Nizam for having left about 35 lakh acres of land for the government. He said that a proper utilisation of land would take Telangana to the next level. He also hinted at a Cabinet expansion after his return from Singapore. (INN)
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    Gulf

    Saudi woman’s quest for childhood nanny touches heart of a nation

    Saudi woman’s quest for childhood nanny touches heart of a nation

    Rawan Radwan and Marie ‘Ning’ BernardoJEDDAH : SIRAJ WAHAB When Saudi freelance journalist Rawan Radwan set out to locate her childhood nanny, she never imagined that her search would become an international news story, warming hearts around the globe. Three years ago, the 29-year-old Saudi woman and her sister, Hadeel, discovered a deeply touching personal letter written to their mother by a woman from the Philippines 22 years ago. “The discovery of that letter sparked my curiosity to find this person,” said Radwan. “She was our nanny, and her full name was Marie ‘Ning’ Bernardo. Many of our happy childhood memories are associated with her.” With time and distance working against her, Radwan was frustrated time and again in her quest to locate the long lost nanny. “I wanted to know where life had taken her,” she told Arab News. “She was very caring; it was she who instilled a sense of discipline in us; she was the one who read bedtime stories to us; she was the one who taught us English.” The then-youngsters were particularly attached to Marie because of the nature of their parents’ jobs. “My father, the late Mohammed Jamil Radwan, was a diplomat posted in Jakarta; my mother, Fatma M. Zain, was a lecturer in Jeddah. Both had very busy work schedules, and so we were left in our nanny’s care most of the time at that formative, impressionable age, and so everything good that she did for us remained deep within.” Radwan said she and her sister may have had 10 nannies after Marie, but “no one could replace her in kindness and goodness, and that is why I wanted to reach her.” Armed with the nanny’s name and that letter, Radwan scoured the Internet. “I went to every single social networking site — Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. I would enter her first name, her middle name, her last name, and the name of her city and her country — everything … I searched her with every possible permutation and combination, but I drew a blank,” she said. After three years of off-and-on search, Radwan had almost given up when two weeks ago she Googled “Quezon,” the province from where the letter had been posted. “I came up with the province’s official webpage. On that website was a telephone number. I dialed and spoke with Eva Palma, an assistant in the governor’s office. I told her my purpose and gave her the address that was mentioned in the letter. She took down my contact details and promised to call me back. I even e-mailed our nanny’s picture to her.” It seems Palma was not able to find the address, so she contacted Danny Estacio, a journalist at Manila Bulletin newspaper, and passed on all the details to him along with the photo. Sensing a brilliant story, Estacio ran a piece in his newspaper along with Marie’s picture. “Our nanny saw her photograph in the newspaper and came to Palma’s office with three albums full of photos that connected her with us,” said Radwan. “All those pictures that are now in the Philippine newspapers and television stations are from her.” The nanny was then approached by a Philippine television station. GMA News TV’s “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho” got the nanny into the studio, and Radwan was connected from Jeddah. “The two of us saw each other for the first time after 22 years,” she said. “It was an incredible, fascinating fairytale.” Marie is now in Candelaria, a town in Quezon Province. Radwan, her mother, sister and a brother, who was very small when Marie left them, are over the moon. “Good people have a way of weaving their way into our hearts. She was extremely nice to us, and the things that she wrote in that famous letter were extremely heartwarming. There was a special note for my younger sister. I was six at that time, and she was four. She doesn’t remember her a lot, but from the letter it was pretty evident that Hadeel was Marie’s favorite. She called me Roona affectionately and my sister Looli. We called her Dada.” On the television program, Radwan said to Marie: “Dada, we missed you; we love you, and I hope you are good and happy. I hope you finally found the love of your life and the life that you always wanted. I wish you more blessings. And, I hope to see you soon.” Radwan wants to thank all those who helped her locate her nanny. “I would like to express my gratitude to Eva Palma for accepting my offer to help find my nanny. I wouldn’t have been able to start my initial search without her. I want to thank Estacio for publishing my story and making my voice heard, and lastly I would like to also thank the team at the ‘Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho’ television show for taking the time to tell my story and making my nanny the star that she deserves to be.” For Radwan, all is well that ends well. She wants to meet her in person. “There are so many things that we have planned for her,” she said. “She was our role model, and she will continue to be one — forever.”
    ‘I can still see the same kindness in her eyes’

    ‘I can still see the same kindness in her eyes’

    Rawan Radwan meets Marie Luningning Bebit in the Philippines.Saudi journalist in emotional reunion with Filipino childhood nanny MANILA: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR A Saudi journalist who was on a quest to find her childhood nanny has finally reunited with the woman who left the Kingdom 22 years ago. Arab News’ sister publication Sayidaty magazine sponsored Rawan Radwan’s trip all the way from Jeddah to Manila. “At first, I thought it was a joke when the magazine informed me that they would fly me out to the Philippines,” she said. Radwan said: “I was very excited and counted the hours until I finally flew into Manila’s airport. Even then, I still couldn’t believe I was actually in the Philippines.” She said: “The next day flew by fast as we toured the city, but I was extremely excited anticipating the meet between us.” “Seeing her face as I walked toward her, I could see genuine love and I felt the same way,” she said. “It was great to surprise her the way we did. It was an epic moment that I will never forget.” Local Filipino show “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho,” English for “one at heart,” organized a ceremony to recognize the accomplishment of Marie Luningning Bebit, now the only female town police officer, in combatting violence against women and children. “I was given a great opportunity when I got to see the child that I helped raise over 20 years ago. I think I am being rewarded for my volunteer work,” said Marie. “I am grateful for everything Rawan and her family had given me before and are giving me now. I will always remember them and will surely keep in touch,” she added. It’s always great to meet people who are kind to their domestic workers, Jessica Soho, host of the leading news-magazine show in Philippines, told Arab News. “Many of our countrymen work in Saudi Arabia and we usually only hear the negative stories. This is why it was very important for me to bring this positive experience to my audience.” She said: “I think it touched and inspired a lot of us and it also somehow highlighted the heroism of our countrymen, especially mothers who leave their children behind and go to Saudi Arabia in search of a good job to provide for them.” Radwan’s story went viral on Filipino social media sites, where people shared their positive thoughts and comments about the issue. “Appreciating what ‘dada’ (Arabic for housemaid) did for them is the heartwarming story of the night,” said Arvin Castro, the show’s Facebook page administrator. “We are really proud of this family and, of course, of overseas Filipino workers who are spending their time working abroad for their families,” he added. Touched by the story, Saudi Arabian Airlines offered to sponsor the tickets to help Rawan reach her destination non-stop from Jeddah to Manila. Rawan was also given a complimentary stay at the luxury Fairmont Makati Hotel in Manila. According to Rawan, Marie still looks the same, only with shorter hair. “I can see the same smile, the same kindness in her eyes and I still see the nanny who has lived with us for years under one roof,” she said. “This trip was not only an amazing gift, but was also a learning experience for me. I was able to learn about Filipino culture by experiencing the local cuisine, attire, language, different landscapes and most importantly, the area where she lives. I got to see how beautiful and close-knit her community is,” she added. Rawan and Marie pledge to continue communicating and reconnecting to make up for the years they were apart.
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    World

    Indian start-up launches shoes that show you the way

    Indian start-up launches shoes that show you the way

    SMART SHOES: CEO of Ducere Technologies, Krispian Lawrence poses with the inner soles, left, and a pair of GPS-enabled smart sports shoes, to be marketed under the name ‘LeChal’ in Hyderabad. (AFP)AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE NEW DELHI: “Wizard of Oz” heroine Dorothy only had to click her ruby red slippers together and they would spirit her home to Kansas. Now, an Indian high-tech start-up is promising to do the same in real life with a new, GPS-enabled smart sports shoe that vibrates to give the wearer directions. The fiery red sneakers, which will also count the number of steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned, will go on sale in September under the name LeChal, which means “take me along” in Hindi. The shoes come with a detachable Bluetooth transceiver that links to a smartphone app to direct the wearer using Google maps, sending a vibrating signal to indicate a left or right turn. They are the brainchild of 30-year-old Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, 28, two engineering graduates who founded their tech start-up Ducere in a small apartment in 2011 with backing from angel investors and now employ 50 people. “We got this idea and realized that it would really help visually challenged people, it would work without any audio or physical distractions,” said Lawrence in an interview with AFP. “But then we were trying it out on ourselves and suddenly we were like, ‘wait a minute, even I would want this,’ because it felt so liberating not having to look down at your phone or being tied to anything.” “The footwear works instinctively. Imagine if someone taps your right shoulder, your body naturally reacts to turn right, and that’s how LeChal works.” Smart shoes aimed at specific demographic markets — such as dementia sufferers and children whose parents want to keep track of their movements — are already commercially available. But Lawrence and Sharma believe theirs will be the first to target mass-market consumers, and have focused on creating stylish rather than purely functional footwear. As well as the red sneaker, they are marketing an insole to allow users to slip the technology into their own shoes. “Earlier, wearable technology was always seen as machine-like, nerdy glasses or watches, but now that is changing,” said Lawrence. They say they have 25,000 advance orders for the shoes, which will retail at between $100 and $150. Demand has so far mostly been through word of mouth and through the lechal.com website. But the company is in talks with retailers to stock the shoes ahead of the holiday season in India and the United States. It forecasts it will sell more than 100,000 pairs of the shoes, which are manufactured in China, by next April. Wearable technology is a growing global sector. Market tracker IDC forecast in April that sales would triple this year to 19 million units worldwide, growing to 111.9 million by 2018. The industry’s rapid growth has given rise to fears about privacy, although Ducere says it will record no data on users and maintains robust security. The company still hopes its product will be useful for visually impaired people, and experts at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in the southern city of Hyderabad are testing its suitability. “It’s a perfect intuitive wearable item. You may forget to wear a belt or a helmet, but shoes you can never leave the house without,” said Anthony Vipin Das, a doctor at the institute. “LeChal solves orientation and direction problems, it’s a good assistant to the cane.” Possible problems include battery failure or loss of Bluetooth connectivity, which Das says could be fixed by providing a live feed of a user’s position to a friend or relative, with their consent. The company says it could use a portion of any future profits to subsidise the shoes for disabled users. For all the shoes’ high-tech features, Lawrence’s favorite thing is that he no longer loses his phone — if the wearer moves too far from his or her phone, the shoes buzz to warn them. “I’m a very forgetful person and the best part is that the shoes don’t let you forget your phone,” he said.
    ‘I can still see the same kindness in her eyes’

    ‘I can still see the same kindness in her eyes’

    Rawan Radwan meets Marie Luningning Bebit in the Philippines.Saudi journalist in emotional reunion with Filipino childhood nanny MANILA: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR A Saudi journalist who was on a quest to find her childhood nanny has finally reunited with the woman who left the Kingdom 22 years ago. Arab News’ sister publication Sayidaty magazine sponsored Rawan Radwan’s trip all the way from Jeddah to Manila. “At first, I thought it was a joke when the magazine informed me that they would fly me out to the Philippines,” she said. Radwan said: “I was very excited and counted the hours until I finally flew into Manila’s airport. Even then, I still couldn’t believe I was actually in the Philippines.” She said: “The next day flew by fast as we toured the city, but I was extremely excited anticipating the meet between us.” “Seeing her face as I walked toward her, I could see genuine love and I felt the same way,” she said. “It was great to surprise her the way we did. It was an epic moment that I will never forget.” Local Filipino show “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho,” English for “one at heart,” organized a ceremony to recognize the accomplishment of Marie Luningning Bebit, now the only female town police officer, in combatting violence against women and children. “I was given a great opportunity when I got to see the child that I helped raise over 20 years ago. I think I am being rewarded for my volunteer work,” said Marie. “I am grateful for everything Rawan and her family had given me before and are giving me now. I will always remember them and will surely keep in touch,” she added. It’s always great to meet people who are kind to their domestic workers, Jessica Soho, host of the leading news-magazine show in Philippines, told Arab News. “Many of our countrymen work in Saudi Arabia and we usually only hear the negative stories. This is why it was very important for me to bring this positive experience to my audience.” She said: “I think it touched and inspired a lot of us and it also somehow highlighted the heroism of our countrymen, especially mothers who leave their children behind and go to Saudi Arabia in search of a good job to provide for them.” Radwan’s story went viral on Filipino social media sites, where people shared their positive thoughts and comments about the issue. “Appreciating what ‘dada’ (Arabic for housemaid) did for them is the heartwarming story of the night,” said Arvin Castro, the show’s Facebook page administrator. “We are really proud of this family and, of course, of overseas Filipino workers who are spending their time working abroad for their families,” he added. Touched by the story, Saudi Arabian Airlines offered to sponsor the tickets to help Rawan reach her destination non-stop from Jeddah to Manila. Rawan was also given a complimentary stay at the luxury Fairmont Makati Hotel in Manila. According to Rawan, Marie still looks the same, only with shorter hair. “I can see the same smile, the same kindness in her eyes and I still see the nanny who has lived with us for years under one roof,” she said. “This trip was not only an amazing gift, but was also a learning experience for me. I was able to learn about Filipino culture by experiencing the local cuisine, attire, language, different landscapes and most importantly, the area where she lives. I got to see how beautiful and close-knit her community is,” she added. Rawan and Marie pledge to continue communicating and reconnecting to make up for the years they were apart.
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    NRI

    NRIs asked to secure MR passports

    NRIs asked to secure MR passports - Sep 01 2014

    Courtesy image for illustration purpose only. RIYADH: RASHID HASSAN The Indian Embassy has asked citizens living in the Kingdom to have machine-readable passports issued as soon as possible. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will phase out non-machine-readable passports by Nov. 24, 2015, Surinder Bhagat, Indian Embassy spokesman, told Arab News on Saturday. “Foreign governments may deny visas or even entry on old passports,” he said. “This is why Indian citizens living across the Kingdom are advised to change their passports as soon as they can.” Passports with pasted photos and handwritten details or a 20-year validity period are considered non-machine-readable. “The government has been issuing electronic passports since 2001,” he said. “In fact, all new passports are ICAO-compliant and are printed in Riyadh.” Applicants must submit an application for a new passport, a self-attested copy of their existing passport and a copy of their iqama, along with a fee, in order to get their new passports issued. The Indian government has also decided to recall 60-page passport booklets bearing codes Z-000001 to Z-073000 with immediate effect due to administrative and technical problems in their usage. The holders of passports with these numbers can return them to their embassies to have them canceled and re-apply for a new passport free of charge.
    Indians seek IISJ expansion

    Indians seek IISJ expansion - Sep 01 2014

    SHOW OF SUPPORT: Indian Consul General B.S. Mubarak, 5th left, with organizers of the welcoming ceremony in Jeddah on Friday. (AN photo)JEDDAH: SIRAJ WAHAB A leading member of the Indian community has called on the new consul general to help expedite the process of expanding the International Indian School-Jeddah (IISJ) to accommodate nearly 5,000 children who have nowhere else to go for education. Dr. M.S. Karimuddin, a well-known pediatrician and former chairman of the school managing committee, was speaking at a well-attended function organized by the Indian community to welcome Consul General B.S. Mubarak on Friday. “I have been part of this school since its inception,” he said. “The school currently has 13,000 students, but there are thousands in the queue waiting to get in. Parents are facing immense difficulties. We need to find a way out.” Mubarak acknowledged the problem and said he would do all in his power to solve it. “Right now, our focus is on the Indian pilgrims who are arriving for Haj 2014. Once Haj is over, we will focus on this and other genuine issues pointed out by many leading members of the community.” The new consul general is a familiar face to the Indian community in Jeddah. He was the Haj consul for three years from 2008 to 2011. Before being appointed consul general in Jeddah, he was India’s representative in Palestine, a posting that he said taught him about the very admirable qualities of the Palestinian people. He recalled many anecdotes about his stint in Palestine. “Palestinians are very honorable and hard-working people,” he said. “I have seen many bright Palestinians working abroad for years in some of the most desirable places and yet coming back to their homeland to reinforce their rightful claim on their land and their country.” Talking about the honesty and generosity of the Palestinian people, he said he had once forgotten a bag of groceries outside a market. “Once I realized, I went back to the store and was surprised that it was not there. This was not my experience with the Palestinians and I was upset.” Realizing my anxiety, a nearby storeowner asked me about what was in the bag. “He supplied all the contents and told me someone might have taken it accidentally. He wouldn’t take a penny from me. I was uncomfortable, but he was adamant and wouldn’t accept any payment.” Two days later when Mubarak went to inquire about the missing bag, the storeowner said someone had taken it by mistake and returned it the next day. “Such is the level of their honesty and generosity,” Mubarak said. The program was the idea of prominent Indian community members, including Siadath Ali Khan, Syed Sharique Ali, Kader Khan, Aziz Kidwai, V.K. Rauf, Syed Nasir Khursheed and Mohammad Rafiya. In his address, Siadat Ali Khan praised the consul general for his excellent services to Indian pilgrims in the past. He reiterated that Indian welfare forums and organizations played a pivotal role during the Nitaqat campaign. “All of us will be more than happy to extend any and all help to you, Mr. Consul General, in accomplishing any task for the good of the community.” The community members recalled the valuable contributions of previous diplomats, including Talmiz Ahmad, T.T.P. Abdullah, Ausaf Sayeed, Syed Akbaruddin and Faiz Ahmad Kidwai. “All our diplomats contributed in their own ways to raise the profile of the Indian community in the Kingdom,” said Ahmeduddin Owaisi, a prominent and respected elder of the community. India Forum’s Acting President Shaikh Khaleeq was the master of ceremonies. Huma Kader Khan introduced the consul general and welcomed his wife Lateefa Mubarak. Syed Sharique Ali presented a vote of thanks. Among the prominent invitees were popular consuls and vice consuls, including Raghib Qureshi, Irshad Ahmad, Raj Kumar, S.R.H. Fahmi and N.P. Singh. Office-bearers and members of nearly 50 different cultural, social and welfare organizations took part in the welcoming ceremony at the Jeddah Trident. Well-known ghazal singer Nizam Ali Khan added a dash of color to the evening with lilting Urdu poetry.
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    Special

    Indian start-up launches shoes that show you the way

    Indian start-up launches shoes that show you the way

    SMART SHOES: CEO of Ducere Technologies, Krispian Lawrence poses with the inner soles, left, and a pair of GPS-enabled smart sports shoes, to be marketed under the name ‘LeChal’ in Hyderabad. (AFP)AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE NEW DELHI: “Wizard of Oz” heroine Dorothy only had to click her ruby red slippers together and they would spirit her home to Kansas. Now, an Indian high-tech start-up is promising to do the same in real life with a new, GPS-enabled smart sports shoe that vibrates to give the wearer directions. The fiery red sneakers, which will also count the number of steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned, will go on sale in September under the name LeChal, which means “take me along” in Hindi. The shoes come with a detachable Bluetooth transceiver that links to a smartphone app to direct the wearer using Google maps, sending a vibrating signal to indicate a left or right turn. They are the brainchild of 30-year-old Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, 28, two engineering graduates who founded their tech start-up Ducere in a small apartment in 2011 with backing from angel investors and now employ 50 people. “We got this idea and realized that it would really help visually challenged people, it would work without any audio or physical distractions,” said Lawrence in an interview with AFP. “But then we were trying it out on ourselves and suddenly we were like, ‘wait a minute, even I would want this,’ because it felt so liberating not having to look down at your phone or being tied to anything.” “The footwear works instinctively. Imagine if someone taps your right shoulder, your body naturally reacts to turn right, and that’s how LeChal works.” Smart shoes aimed at specific demographic markets — such as dementia sufferers and children whose parents want to keep track of their movements — are already commercially available. But Lawrence and Sharma believe theirs will be the first to target mass-market consumers, and have focused on creating stylish rather than purely functional footwear. As well as the red sneaker, they are marketing an insole to allow users to slip the technology into their own shoes. “Earlier, wearable technology was always seen as machine-like, nerdy glasses or watches, but now that is changing,” said Lawrence. They say they have 25,000 advance orders for the shoes, which will retail at between $100 and $150. Demand has so far mostly been through word of mouth and through the lechal.com website. But the company is in talks with retailers to stock the shoes ahead of the holiday season in India and the United States. It forecasts it will sell more than 100,000 pairs of the shoes, which are manufactured in China, by next April. Wearable technology is a growing global sector. Market tracker IDC forecast in April that sales would triple this year to 19 million units worldwide, growing to 111.9 million by 2018. The industry’s rapid growth has given rise to fears about privacy, although Ducere says it will record no data on users and maintains robust security. The company still hopes its product will be useful for visually impaired people, and experts at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in the southern city of Hyderabad are testing its suitability. “It’s a perfect intuitive wearable item. You may forget to wear a belt or a helmet, but shoes you can never leave the house without,” said Anthony Vipin Das, a doctor at the institute. “LeChal solves orientation and direction problems, it’s a good assistant to the cane.” Possible problems include battery failure or loss of Bluetooth connectivity, which Das says could be fixed by providing a live feed of a user’s position to a friend or relative, with their consent. The company says it could use a portion of any future profits to subsidise the shoes for disabled users. For all the shoes’ high-tech features, Lawrence’s favorite thing is that he no longer loses his phone — if the wearer moves too far from his or her phone, the shoes buzz to warn them. “I’m a very forgetful person and the best part is that the shoes don’t let you forget your phone,” he said.
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