Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wearable Technology

In 2004 the marathon runners traced the historic steps of Philippides from the coastal city of Marathon to the 1896 ancient Olympic stadium. The two significant differences were the runners wore shoes and these shies contained microchips tied to the laces. Along the course, every five miles, the runners passed an antenna that recorded their distance and speed. The inclusion of micro technology into footwear has to date been limited. To date there has been some exploration with microchips in military footwear for the purpose of global positioning identification, but in sports shoes there has been limited innovations with novelty lights, timepieces and now simple biofeedback. Shoes present a logical focus for wearable technology and according to experts unlike other articles of clothing that must be washed or cleaned, shoes present a more stable place to add useful electronics. adidas released prototype sports shoes with microchip technology, which continuously reconfigured its sole to provide a constant level of support whilst its wearer was running. The heel contained a sensor and magnet to gauge the cushioning needed and this data was relayed to a microprocessor with a drive train running from the motor to make adjustments. Every second, the sensor in the heel took up to 20,000 readings and the embedded electronic brain made 10,000 calculations, directing a tiny electric motor to change the shoe. The goal was to make the shoe adjust to changing conditions and the runner's particular style while in use. As each contact phase was made the sole of the shoe compressed, the new prototype adidas shoe, called adidas 1 , used its impact sensor, microprocessor and motorized cushioning system to reconfigure the level of shock-absorption provided by the shoe every four steps. The computer is housed in the arch of the running shoe holds a microprocessor built around a motor unit, along with a battery (must be replaced after 100 hours). Impulses from the control centre compresses or decompresses the sole every four paces, to maintain the same level of support. The athlete can fine tune cushioning by using the shoe's "user interface" which consists of two buttons that adjust for the runner's preference for softer or harder cushioning. Five light-emitting diodes display the setting. Rivals Nike, have been working on similar wearable technology but to date there have been no plans to use hi-tech shoes at the Beijing Olympiad.

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