RUNSAFER smart shoes to track running health wirelessly

Dec 3, 2013
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A new smart running shoe capable of evaluating biomechanical data like form, foot position, and even exhaustion in real-time could supercharge what we expect from wearable fitness monitors when it goes on sale in early 2015. Dubbed EU Project RUNSAFER, the sensor-studded shoe is expected to launch under the Kelme brand in Europe, and is part of a project led by Fraunhofer Institute researchers to go beyond pulse- and breathing-rate, pace, and other typical biometrics currently collected by health wearables.

"Pulse-rate watches and chest straps record only vital signs like breathing and heart rate" Dr Andreas Heinig of the Photonic Microsystems IPMS lab said of the project. "In contrast, our running shoe medically evaluates and monitors training while jogging. It informs the runner for example of incorrect foot position, asymmetric loading, or warns of exhaustion or overload. There has never been a comparable device before."

Current health tracking systems, such as Jawbone's UP24 and Nike's FuelBand SE, use accelerometers to calculate speed, steps, calorific burn, and other data. The RUNSAFER shoe, however, packs in considerably more sensors in order to give a more comprehensive picture of not only performance but health.

For instance, accelerometers are paired with GPS sensors for more accurate positioning, and there's tracking not only of how often footfalls take place, but whether the runner is placing their foot flat or at an angle. That could be a sign of poor form, or of the runner favoring a non-typical style because of an incipient injury they're not consciously aware of.

A companion smartphone app hooked up via Bluetooth would present all the data, including the traditional basics and more complex suggestions. "The app could recommend running more slowly, for example," Heinig points out, "or rolling off the foot differently, suggest seeking a different running surface or stopping if necessary." A companion website would do further analysis, including coming up with a customized training routine.

The shoe recharges on an included base station - it's not clear if it's inductive - and the tracking module itself can be removed from the sole for switching between footwear. Fraunhofer and the other members of the project say the next stage is shrinking down the current prototype module for the commercial version; it's unclear at this stage how much that's expected to cost.

It's not the first smart shoe we've seen this year, though, with Google bringing a talking shoe intended to prompt the wearer to be more active to SXSW in March. Whereas the RUNSAFER footwear takes a more serious approach to running health, the Google project was more tongue-in-cheek, making sarcastic comments like "In case you forgot, it's left right left right" after periods of inactivity.


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