Honda announced on its newsroom website the creation of a startup called Ashirase, Inc., the first commercial startup to originate from the company’s IGNITION program. Ashirase will develop an in-shoe navigation system that will help visually impaired people navigate public spaces.
Honda announced last month that it was launching the IGNITION program to help its employees market their ideas for new consumer products. Ashirase is headed by Wataru Chino, who came up with the idea of a new navigation device after his visually impaired grandmother’s in-law was killed when she slipped while walking and fell from an embankment. He used his experience as a research and development engineer for automated driving applications to develop a new assistance device for visually impaired pedestrians.
The new device, which bears the same name as the company, consists of two main parts: one fits in the shoe and has vibrating pods along a strip of fabric; the other part sits on top of the shoe and contains circuitry to run navigation applications and a battery to power the vibrating pods. The device works by combining GPS data with maps that represent a destination. When walking, the person is instructed by vibrations in the left or right shoe to turn or (e.g. at an intersection) to stop with vibrations in front of both shoes. The device can be used in a variety of standard shoes.
Chino states on the announcement page that the device is intended for the visually impaired, not for the blind. He also notes that the device was designed to complement other visual aids like a white stick, while not acting as a distraction at the same time. Since it is not based on sound, the user can still hear ambient signals such as horned cars or people talking. Honda expects the device to be sold in 2022, and when it does, it will come with a subscription service. Chino points out that Honda will only footing part of the start-up costs; The company still needs investors to add an additional 130 million yen before the project can get off-going.
Official announcement of this product given on Global Honda.