We’ve talked about wearables before, and about how they are beginning to mix functionality with elegant design. Heartbeat monitors that seductively dangle around your neck. Temperature trackers that gracefully adorn your wrist. Today we’re going to look at a sector of “wearables” that has especially complicated design issues, but which can end up making a significant impact in the healthcare and quality-of-life field. A sub-group that is often overlooked, trodden upon, underfoot… Smart shoes.
Obviously, I mean smart as in “intelligent”, not smart as in “elegant”, the type you wear to your wedding. Type “smart shoes” in Google and you get a lot of offers for shiny brogues or dainty heels. I imagine that entries for intelligent, life-enhancing shoes will climb their way up (sorry) the ranks as this sector starts to take off, as more and more realize the potential for healthcare, fitness and even lifestyle. And until then, I shall continue to call them smart shoes, so that they fit happily with their smartwatch and smart glass brethren.
But what could a smart shoe do that a smart watch can’t, I hear you ask?
For example, Path helps people who have trouble walking, such as sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. It clips to the tip of the shoe, and projects parallel lines onto the next 50cm of the floor, thus laying down a guide for the opposite foot. Pressure sensors inserted into the soles of the shoes trigger vibrations with a foot hits the ground. This compensates for the loss of sensation commonly associated with the disease.
GPS Smart Shoe helps with the care of Alzheimers’ sufferers by transmitting the shoe’s (and it’s wearer’s, presumably) location to a dedicated website thanks to a tracker in the heel, although its battery life is only a couple of days. The GPS Smart Sole hides the tracker in the insole, which can be fitted into most walking shoes, and has a year-long battery life. Mercifully I don’t have experience with this, but it must be terrifying when someone you’re caring for wanders off and neither you nor they have any idea where they are. Now, they can be located on Google Maps. You even receive an alert when they leave or enter a room or a building.
And, of course, there are smart shoes for fun. The casual shoe Lechal (which means “take me along” in Hindi, and “of the milk” in Spanish – let’s go with the Hindi interpretation, it is being developed in India, after all) links with Google Maps and guides you using haptics. It buzzes on the left of the left foot if you need to turn left, right if you need to turn right. So no longer will you need to stop on a street corner to squint at a map. Imagine the implications for the sight-impaired. Oh, and while it’s at it, it counts your steps and calories consumed.
And if Kickstarter is anything to go by, more interesting innovations are on the way. Digitsole will not only track your activity, but will also heat up and keep your tootsies warm on those cold winter runs. The project raised well over twice the $40,000 it was hoping for on the crowdfunding platform back in November, and should hit the market in April. Runscribe is for serious runners, and clips onto your shoes to collect data on how you land, and to analyse your running style. After raising more than 5x their original goal of $50,000 on Kickstarter, the company plans to start shipping the product early in 2015.
So, smart shoes for healthcare, and for fitness… What about smart shoes for fashion? Yes, I mean smart smart shoes? That could, perhaps, buzz when it was time to go home. We could call it the Cinderella. 😉
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For more on wearables, check out my Flipboard magazine!