Packing connected tech inside of a running shoe is not a new phenomenon but there's very few that have managed to do a great job of it. We're not talking about the clip-on trackers or the insoles you slip into your shoes. We're talking footwear with the smarts integrated into the design.
With sensors shrinking and becoming more advanced, companies are finally being able to take advantage of the valuable data that can be recorded from the feet. Especially for runners.
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Major sports shoe players like Nike and Adidas might not be playing ball just yet, but the likes of Under Armour and Xiaomi along with some exciting startups are starting to really show us what's possible. Don't be surprised if you're pulling on some seriously connected running kicks in the not too distant future...
Why the feet?
Putting sensors in close proximity of your feet is a no brainer if you're trying to track motion. Your entire movement starts with your feet and if you want to get the best data about things like pace and distance covered, it's almost certainly going to provide more useful information than something that's placed on the wrist or in the ears.
Motion sensors that you'll be familiar with if you own a Fitbit or a Misfit fitness tracker. We're talking about the 3-axis motion kind. They're built into shoe a bit like the way Nike's and Adidas shoe sensors were, but you won't feel them when you run and they're waterproofed so they don't get damaged when they get a little wet.
There's whole stream of data measuring from the feet can give you. Whether that's basics like speed or pace or something more advanced like gait, cadence, and even G-force. Companies are already looking at being able to record elements such as sweat, body fat percentage, energy and posture as well.
What happens next?
This is really the important part. We know we can collect the data but how does it make us a better runner or give us more valuable insights? That's the key. In the case of Under Armour's new running shoe collection, it's hoping to help you manage your running workloads by using the onboard sensors to measure muscular fatigue (decline in ability of a muscle to generate force). It does this by measuring the average air time of a sequence of jumps.
One shoe for all?
In the case of Under Armour, the answer to that question is no and that's important. Our feet come in all shapes and sizes and different running styles can dictate what type of running shoe you should be wearing. That's why UA is offering three options.
Is it just about running?
No. Smart sports shoes are landing for other sports as well. Keep a look out for the Iofit smart shoes that are designed specifically for golfers and build pressure sensors into the outsoles of the shoes to measure force in different areas of the foot.
Who's making them?
On the running front, we're talking about UA and Chinese tech giant Xiaomi. The likes of Nike, Adidas, Asics and New Balance have yet to venture into this world with the tech fully integrated into the shoe.
Lenovo has partnered with Vibram to take a slightly different approach to smartening up the sports shoe. They've been playing around with a concept that uses Intel's Curie wearable chip to track fitness but will also let you pair the shoes with mobile games so you can actually run inside an endless runner smartphone game and truly gamify your fitness.
Should you be excited?
Yes, finally. It's likely that Under Armour will not be the only company to explore the idea of smartening up the running shoe in the coming year. Startups like Kinematix, Ato-Gear and Stepp might not be building the tech into the shoes, but they are also ones to keep a look out for if you yearn for more advanced running metrics.