What are smart shoes?

Smart shoes are a fusion of vogue and utility. These cutting-edge wearables integrate seamlessly into your lifestyle, harnessing the power of technology to enhance your overall experience. Equipped with sensors and devices, smart shoes diligently track your activity levels, monitor your health metrics, pinpoint your location, and much more. With wireless connectivity through Bluetooth, they sync with your smartphone, providing you with invaluable insights and personalized recommendations to optimize your performance and well-being.

They may seem like a concept straight out of science fiction. But they have already become a reality, gracing the market with their presence, thanks to the efforts of numerous brands and startups.

Much like many other articles within the wearables category, smart shoes are mostly attached to the feet of athletes. Still, applications in other areas slowly start to reach our awareness. But let’s start out the journey in the sports world.

Are smart shoes only for running?

No, smart shoes are not only for runners. They are for anyone who wants to track their activity levels, health, location, etc. With sensors and other devices that can measure various biometric data. This data mostly concerns physical activity, if not running, so at least some other sport. That’s where you need to know things like pace, speed, foot strike angle, and ground contact time.

Smart shoes are not limited to sports. In recent years some models of ordinary, fashionable shoes equipped with some sort of sensors connectable through Bluetooth have hit the market. They can have some quite useless but fun features like self-lacing or LED lights. But they can also have very useful abilities like heating and adjusting the cushioning according to your preferences. Lenovo’s shoes have a built-in display that can be customized to display the wearer’s mood, along with other real-time fitness data.

Smart shoes for persons with vision impairment

Now, let’s imagine all the technical stuff that can be implemented into a shoe. For example, the recent ultrasonic sensors that almost all new cars have. The parking help, the distance sensors, and the obstacle sensors. What if we could put some of this onto a shoe for people with vision impairment?

Well, somebody already thought about that:

InnoMake in collaboration with Graz University has developed this type of shoe. They have waterproof ultrasonic sensors attached at the tip of each footwear. Whenever they encounter obstacles, the sensors send vibrations or make noises to signal the wearer. The warning system can detect obstacles from up to four meters distance.

smart shoes
Eliud Kipchoge

The technique is widely available, and the ultrasonic sensors together with wiring and CPU can be found for just a few bucks in any electronic store. In Peshawar, Pakistan, a 17-year-old student called Wasiullah put together a similar pair. Visually impaired people are warned with sound or vibration about any obstacle on their path within a radius of 120 cm.

Are the controversial Nike Vaporfly regarded as smart?

On 12 October 2019, Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon in Vienna. He won, but that wasn’t the exceptional deed. His finish time was 1:59:40, and with that, he became the first person in recorded history to complete a marathon in under two hours. But it wasn’t even that extraordinary record that made headlines all over the world… It was his shoes.

Because he used Nike’s newest invention, Nike Vaporfly. And that was what everybody was interested in. Nike claimed that those shoes could improve any runner’s results by 4%. They even had 4% added to the name.

While athletes were queuing to get a pair, the authorities were caught up in lengthy and confrontational discussions. The shoes had a newly developed lightweight and responsive foam that delivers exceptional energy return and cushioning. It is then paired with a full-length carbon-fiber plate that provides a propulsive sensation and helps the runner maintain speed. The 4% improvement has been documented in multiple studies.

Even so, the Nike shoe, and all its siblings, are not regarded as smart shoes. They don’t have sensors or devices that can track or communicate data. And that would be a requirement for the definition.

What can smart shoes do for you?

Let’s break down what the sensor technology in smart shoes is capable of. Most of the features are aimed at sports and fitness, but some of those can be useful even for everyday, leisure shoes. So, what can these gadgets really do?

  • Activity tracking: Sensors in smart shoes can monitor steps, distance, calories burned, and location.
  • Health monitoring: Smart shoes can measure biometric data like heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation, and possibly provide feedback on posture, balance, foot strike angle, etc.
  • Enhanced comfort: Some shoes can adapt cushioning, temperature, and fit for personalized comfort. Some models even provide foot heating or massages.

The future for smart footwear.

The future holds steady growth. The smart shoe industry is today reasonably small, but much like other parts of the exciting wearable sector, it is expected to grow significantly. It is possible that the smart shoe market will expand far beyond sport and fitness, and if that happens, the future market figures could surprise even the most optimistic analyst.