Wiivv: Forget the wrist and smarten up the feet instead

Meet the company that wants make your life more connected starting with the shoe
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Wiivv is the most funded 3D printed product in Kickstarter history. The Base, a custom insole where you can use your smartphone to scan your feet to create a perfect form-fitting pair of insoles sits proudly with a 'Project We Love' badge stamped on the front of its campaign page.

The California-based outfit, which calls itself a bionics company first with a wearable company embedded into it, quickly surged past its $50,000 goal and narrowly missed out on its $250.000 stretch goal.

The Base is also breaking out of the US and launching in the UK. Interestingly I'm told 25% of negative comments on Wiivv's Kickstarter page came from disgruntled Brits who wanted in on the custom insole action too. They listened, and it's coming. But this is just the start. This is a company with smarter aspirations for its custom fit insoles.

Read this: Meet the 3D scanning company making hearables a better fit

"People are so excited about 3D printing right now," says Shamil Hargovan, one of Wiivv's co-founders. "I think it's really starting to capture the imagination of where the world is going. I can't get into names exactly, but I think you can figure it out. One of the biggest sports brands in the world has basically been talking to us."

The Wiivv story so far...

Wiivv: Forget the wrist and smarten up the feet instead

Before the Kickstarter campaign, Hargovan was part of the 3D division at HP, exploring the possibilities of the printing space. Meanwhile, co-founder Louis-Victor Jadavij was busy building 3D car parts. "I had this vision of doing body-perfect gear or athletic gear and Louis had a solution to do orthotics" said Hargovan.

"When we really sat down to think about this company, there was a lot of good reasons to start with insoles first. From a customer perspective, there's an actual market here that we're aware of, so why not start there?"

And so to the feet. While the majority of the wearable world focuses on the wrist, Wiivv decided to focus its attentions further down the body. Hargovan believes his company has the capabilities to customise for other parts of the body, but starting at the bottom made the most sense.

You see a lot of companies say they are going to 3D print shoes, we think that's a slightly naive approach

"There's all these different theories about the foot from ancient Asian medicine to more modern theories," explains Hargovan. "Also, bear in mind just how many joints and bones are placed in the feet. Your entire movement begins with the feet and striking the heel and the way the arch hits the ground over time. The ability to collect things like gait, you just can't do that anywhere else."

Designing wearables for the feet is not easy though, just as it's no easy task building something brilliant that sits in your wrist or your ears. While companies like New Balance have already been busy building its first 3D printed running shoe and Under Armour looks at the potential of smartening up the shoe, Wiivv started with the insole with good reason.

"When you're playing with feet, you need to know your stuff. Everyone's feet are different," says Hargovan. "One thing we had a really strong belief going in was that we're not going to do a shoe. The big reason was that there's so many more elements to that shoe including the top part, which is so hard to scan and capture. You see a lot of companies say they are going to 3D print shoes, we think that's a slightly naive approach. With insoles we can get all of the data we need to make a good insole."

Where wearables are getting it wrong

Wiivv: Forget the wrist and smarten up the feet instead

New Balance recently introduced its first 3D printed running shoe

Data is a topic that crops up again and again when I ask Hargovan about his thoughts on the current state of wearables. It's not long before we get onto Fitbit's alleged heart rate accuracy issues and his surprise that sports companies are not thinking more about well, feet.

"The biggest issue is the quality of data," he said. "The less you have that is custom, that's where the data accuracy is going to be a problem. The second biggest issue is energy. It's really frustrating how these wearables die so quickly. As an industry, we're trying to do everything on the wrist. It doesn't collect half the data you need. We believe if you want to collect data from a specific part of the body, you're going to need to collect it from that part of the body. It stands to reason."

While he has some sympathy with Fitbit, he does believe it's time that major wearable players start to deliver on the data front.

Any new tech is not going to work exactly as it should do from day one. I think it's a disservice when you're talking health though

"Any new tech is not going to work exactly as it should do from day one," Hargovan told us. "I think it's a disservice when you're talking health though. For example with the Fitbit situation, I feel for them. When you get people that run faster and increase their heart rate and the data is not correct, and it's a higher rate than it actually is, causing someone to overexert themselves. I think that's a problem."

It's not just Fitbit that has come under the microscope. We've reviewed plenty of products that have not quite been up to scratch with its tracking and Hargovan agrees it's not an isolated issue.

"I expect better from some of the bigger brands. You don't expect Apple to put something out there that just doesn't collect the data. Nike would be foolish to put something mediocre out there. I think my caution with those big companies would be, you've had your time to shape the world, but the second generation better be awesome."

The holy grail

So what's next for Wiivv? I get a clear sense the team are in this for the long run, but in the short term there's plans for more product announcements beyond the insole.

Currently, the smarts lie in the scanning software but the next step looks to be making insoles more connected. Shamil tells me about the concept video for a connected sole (above) shown off at the TechCrunch Battlefield Hardware competition at CES at the beginning of the year.

One of Wiivv's main investors, MAS Holdings is a company that works closely with Nike and Victoria's Secret. And, according to the Hargovan, the bra industry is just right for similar disruption. Maybe we will see an OMSignal smart OMbra rival in the future.

The co-founder also notes that the introduction of Intel's Curie module is a vital factor to creating smaller form factors for wearables. The significant drop in price of sensors should also open the door for more creative uses of wearable tech.

"We want to marry the Holy Grail basically which is a custom wearable that's made to fit for you ideally through 3D printing," he said. "Imagine the Super Bowl in the United States was just this weekend. Imagine the quarterback being told by the coach that you're starting to walk funny, so just be careful.

"As time progresses we embed sensors to make better products, we invent sensors because we think there's a cool use case, we'll do it. You won't see us throw sensors into anything. There's a huge market for custom gear."

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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