In Ancient Egypt, shoes denoted social status, even distinguishing commoners and nobility by the color and length of their footwear. Recreated ruby slippers commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz and a Rita Hayworth-inspired burnt sienna satin peep toe share the honor of being the most expensive shoes in the world at US$3 million each. Imelda Marcos, wife of former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, was known for her extensive shoe collection and was believed to have owned about 3,000 pairs. Whether lace-up or slip-on, worn-out sandals or hardly-worn stilettos, most of us select our shoes each day without giving them much thought. Today, putting on a “smart” pair of shoes isn’t just about looking sharp for that important business meeting or special occasion.
Running shoes are certainly keeping pace with technology. Manufacturers like Altra and Under Armour (UA) are incorporating sensors into shoes to help make you a better runner. Controlled by a tiny chip, the Altra IQ has a razor-thin sensor embedded from heel to toe, providing information on form and technique. It pairs with an iFit smartphone app to analyze whether you’re landing harder on one foot
than the other, where the impact is concentrated, your stride length, speed, ground contact time, distance, and other running variables. The app recommends in real-time how to adjust your form for better performance and to reduce risk of injury. The latest UA SpeedForm shoes incorporate a new jump test feature to measure muscle fatigue. The chip embedded in the shoe measures the average of six jumps (you make the jumps before you start your run) and provides a jump score. The associated app makes suggestions such as to increase the intensity or distance of your run or the opposite if you feel under the weather.
If running isn’t your thing, you can still get into the swing of this trend with a pair of IOFIT (Internet of Things and Fitness) smart shoes for golfers. Developed by startup Salted Venture, IOFIT shoes incorporate pressure sensors and accelerometers that measure force in different areas of the foot. A companion app collects the data and shows your balance and weight shift so you can analyze form and improve your golf swing. A similar shoe is also being made for strength workouts at the gym. Previewed for the first time at Mobile World Congress in 2016, the shoes were launched the same year on Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects.
Smart Shoes for the Arts Ballerinas practicing classical pointe can now create art in more ways than one with a pair of E-Traces Pointe shoes. Incorporating motion sensors, the shoes capture the dancer’s footwork, feeding the data to a smartphone app, which then transforms it into beautiful visual brush strokes on the screen. Designer Lesia Trubat, pioneer of this concept, believes multiple applications are possible, from self-learning and classes to graphical representation of live performances.
The latest in footwear technology is also improving lives. Inspired by a meeting with a visually impaired acquaintance, India-based designer duo Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma came up with Lechal interactive haptic footwear to help visually impaired people navigate from one place to another. The user selects a destination in a smartphone app that uses a global positioning system (GPS) to find the best route. The app is connected via Bluetooth to the shoes, which vibrate to indicate upcoming directions and obstacles. Route guidance works offline and the shoes even incorporate a fitness tracker. After benefitting themselves, shoe owners get to “pay it forward”: a portion of proceeds from the sale of a pair of Lechal shoes is used to subsidize a pair for someone else.
With new innovative applications being developed using the latest technology, we can be sure that smart shoes will continue to keep us on our toes for years to come.
Read other articles in this series:
Editorial Note: The use of any company, product, or trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by Lam Research Corp. or its subsidiaries.