The Sneaker Police

DN Staff

September 5, 2005

3 Min Read
The Sneaker Police

As many of you know, I don't get cable TV at home. Not even the basic stuff. So to avoid being completely culturally ignorant, I often go to the gym, under the pretext of exercising, to catch the latest episode of The Sopranos or Queer Eye.

So patently obvious is my true motive for working out that just the other day I was quite irritated when the screen on my recumbent bicycle went black. Just as Nate was about to become the featured death on Six Feet Under, up popped a cheery message exhorting me to "Keep Exercising!"

I found myself thinking, "Why do I have to keep pedaling? Why can't I just sit here and enjoy my show?"

All the talk about tighter Homeland Security is bad enough. But I really don't like my sports equipment checking up on me.

Unfortunately, some wily engineers are finding even more clever ways to do just that.

Take the Adidas 1, the world's first smart running shoe. Introduced this spring, it can adjust the degree of cushioning on the fly, through the use of a microcontroller, motor and lead screw, and Hall-effect sensor integrated into the sole. Read all about the engineering teams' technical wizardry in a cover story that appeared last fall in Design News.

As is the case with a lot of the products that we write about in the magazine, Adidas recently sent me a pair of the shoes to test out. Having edited the original story that appeared in Design News, I was pretty eager to put it through its paces and report on my experience.

After my trial "run," I had a follow-up interview with Christian DiBenedetto, the engineer who headed up the development effort for the shoe. I raved about how incredibly comfortable the shoe was, how the dynamic cushioning maximized my performance, blah blah blah. Then we chatted a bit about the strategies that the engineers employed to preserve the battery life-a key engineering challenge. Among other things, he pointed out that the sensor is powered only when needed. For example, once the A to D conversion is complete, the MCU turns off the power to the sensor and voltage reference. Cool, that makes sense.

But then, as kind of an aside, he mentioned that the whole dynamic cushioning system only works when you are actually running. "Like moving one foot in front of the other?" I joked. He pointed out that your feet do have to be moving at a certain rate. Otherwise, the shoe decides that you aren't really running and shuts down the system to conserve power.

Based on the minimum speed DiBenedetto quoted, I realized that I had never been moving fast enough for the system to actually turn on. My perceived comfort level was apparently only a placebo effect. And the shoes knew it all along.

I don't think I like footwear that can check up on my performance-running is torturous enough. On the other hand, I guess it might not be so bad if engineers also can program the shoes to call for a taxi, or 9-1-1 should I really fall off my pace.

Listen to my interview with Adidas Innovation Team Leader Christian DiBenedetto as he describes some of the biggest engineering challenges behind the development of the Adidas 1.

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