We’ve written about smart shoes before, primarily covering footwear that self-ties or tightens such as Nike’s HyperAdapt 1.0. We also covered Digitsole’s Smartshoe that heats your feet and counts your steps in addition to self-tightening. We’re intriqued by Austria-based Tec-Innovation‘s InnoMake shoe with built-in smart obstacle detection. The primary purpose of InnoMake shoes is to help visually impaired and blind people as they walk. Tec-Innovation also positions the smart shoes for the elderly and for fire department and other rescue personnel who often work in visually challenging situations.

InnoMake shoes have six key components: two sensors, a vibration unit, a processing unit, a Bluetooth wireless communication module, and an ultra-bright LED. Tec-Innovation mounts all the electronic components and a battery in a water- and dust-resistant casing at the front of the shoe. Distance measurement and foot movement sensors feed data to the processing module. The vibration unit provides haptic feedback for obstacle alerts. The integrated LED sends visual alerts and can also help people who are not totally blind when they walk in the dark. The processor uses Bluetooth wireless to transmit data to a smartphone mobile app. In addition to haptic and visual alerts generated by the shoe, the smartphone app sends visual and acoustic warnings. Wearers can use bone conduction headphones to hear acoustic alerts in noisy environments.

Users can adjust the InnoMake shoe sensor range up to four meters by pressing a single button on the device. The button can also turn the LED on or off, check or change range, alert mode, and battery life. The device uses acoustic and haptic feedback to indicate mode, range, and remaining battery life. According to Tec-Innovation, the battery charges fully within three hours via an included micro-USB cable. With typical use the battery operates the device for up to one week per charge.

A pair of fully-equipped InnoMake smart shoes costs €3,200 (US$3,886). That’s a hefty price tag, but if it means someone can walk handsfree without a cane or a guide dog the advantages are clear. We do wonder if the unit that protrudes from the front of the shoe makes it difficult to climb steps or to get on or off an escalator, but likely the motivated wearer will learn how to cope with the additional footwear length.