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Handheld Technology

Indian Smart Shoes Creator on Fashion & Wearables

Wearable technology offers a lot of opportunity for consumers – but it still needs to find its place in our everyday lives. Krispian Lawrence, co-founder and chief executive of Indian start-up Ducere Technologies, believes he has the answer - in the form of smart shoes.

“If you ask me what type of company Ducere Technologies is, I say we are a fashion company not a technology company. Shoes are the most natural extensions of the human body. Technologically it would have been easier for us to consider the technology in other form factors but we wanted to be natural and intuitive – and that’s why we went with the shoe.”

The shoes will retail for around $150 and will help users navigate by vibrations indicating which way to go. This is done through an app that uses Google Maps to transmit directions to the shoes via a Bluetooth connection.

“It’s as intuitive as somebody standing behind you and tapping you on the shoulder. If I were to tap you on the right shoulder you would turn right – that’s an instinctive reaction from you and haptics on your feet feel exactly the same way,” Lawrence says.

The shoes can be used for navigation and also for targeted workout sessions where the footwear sets the pace for the user.

“If you need to run faster the footwear will give you a small incremental vibration so that way you get a very tailored workout for your fitness routine.” Lawrence adds that you can ‘control the intensity of the vibrations’ that you are comfortable with.

Lawrence and his co-founder Anirudh Sharma both have engineering backgrounds, and studied and worked in the US before moving back to India to start Ducere Technology in 2011. With a passion for electronics, they initially wanted to develop a program for the visually challenged to help with navigation and mobility.

“We started the LeChal initiative to help people who are visually challenged afford the shoes. We use the sales from the mainstream area to subsidise the costs for the same shoe to a person who is visually challenged,” Lawrence says.

For the Indian market, aren’t the shoes a bit expensive?

“$150 in developed countries in the West is still affordable but in most of the developing nations where most of the visually impaired populace stay – it can be an issue.  So to help out with that we came up with this initiative. As our sales to the mainstreams improve, the higher the sales the bigger the subsidy we can start giving,” Lawrence adds.

The idea to come up with a product to help the visually challenged came to Lawrence and Sharma in 2010. But then they saw a bigger market for the smart shoes – the shoes being something everyone could use.

“We started building footwear for people with disabilities but then we realised this is so simple even we want to use it. We are big on inclusive design - technology should be built for everyone”.

The shoes are launching in September. Lawrence tells me just last year they managed to raise over $2 million from investors and he is confident about the sales projections.

“For this (Indian financial year) we forecasted doing 100,000 units of sales,” Lawrence says. “Looking at the response we have received so far and that fact that we have not yet actively marketed the product - we are pretty confident of meeting if not exceeding the forecast,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence tells me that the shoes are also launching with separate in-soles, which can be placed inside most shoes.

I ask Lawrence if he is surprised by the positive response he has gotten from the global market. Krispian laughs and jokes that it was all ‘planned’ and ‘envisioned’. “We are happy that people are appreciating the work and the product. But yes I am definitely very happy.”

Beecham Research recently said that ‘there is excessive excitement about technology and not enough attention to image, branding and consumer needs’. In its wearable technology report, Beecham Research forecasts that the market is currently on course to be worth some $3bn by 2018. But with greater collaboration, Beecham believes that the market can accelerate and has the potential to be worth $9.3bn by 2018.

I ask Lawrence if wearable tech needs to collaborate with the fashion industry more in order for the industry to really take off.

“I see wearable tech merging into fashion. That is the only future for wearable tech because right now unfortunately a lot of companies have been gadget building - if they continue to do that they will only attract a very niche audience.”

Did Lawrence approach the design of the shoe from a fashion perspective first rather than a technological perspective?

“Yes – I always tell my team we are not in the business of building gadgets. That’s not what we do, [even though] our products have a lot of technology in them.”

Lawrence sneakily adds that his company will be launching three other products but won’t tell me what they are. But he does say ‘they are wearable and not footwear”.

Finally, I ask him about Google’s talking shoes. What’s his opinion?

Lawrence laughs and says he personally wouldn’t like a shoe that talks to him. “If I am wearing shoes that does things for me, only I should know what it is doing for me - other people should not know right?”

I agree Lawrence. Your personal business should only be between you and your shoes. 

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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