Vision impairment is more common than some may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 12 million Americans aged 40 and older have vision impairment. Among this group, 1 million people are blind, and 8 million have vision impairment caused by uncorrected refractive errors, including myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism, an imperfection in the curvature of the eye’s lens or cornea. The CDC says vision disability is one of the most prevalent disabling conditions among children and makes the top 10 among adults 18 years of age and older. A simple shoe-worn system could help lots of these folks. 

An Innovation Awards honoree at CES 2023, Ashirase is a “walking navigational system” that helps the user while they walk, by collecting location and orientation data. It does this through a combination of acceleration, gyro, and orientation sensors that attach to the outsides of both the left and right shoes. Vibration devices, aligned with the foot’s nerve layers, fit inside the user’s shoes. The inner devices give the wearer vibration prompts they receive across 6 areas of their in-shoe devices. For example, when the wearer should move forward, a mobile app activates a vibrator positioned near the front of the foot. If a left or right turn is near, vibrators on the appropriate sides of the feet signal the need to change direction. Ashirase’s makers say one battery charge should last about 4 or 5 days.

Created by a Japanese startup that originated with a new business program at Japan’s Honda Motor Company, the system relies on technology similar to that used in auto navigation: a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) determines location via signals transmitted by a constellation of satellites. GPS (global positioning system) is one form of GNSS.

Not yet available to consumers, Ashirase is currently in a crowdfunding phase, according to a recent Facebook post, while the system’s inception has something of a personal origin story. Ashirase’s developer, Wataru Chino, says, “An accident suffered by one of my family members motivated me to take action to realize safer and more free mobility for visually impaired people….[at Ashirase we] devote ourselves wholeheartedly to realize the freedom of mobility for visually impaired people.”