If you’re dubious whether the prefix “smart” can be slapped on any more product names, prepare to be flabbergasted: MIT Media Lab researcher Dhairya Dand has invented smart insoles that help guide you through the urban sprawl without once consulting a map.
Dand calls them SuperShoes, though they aren’t really shoes at all. Dand’s invention is a microcontroller, Bluetooth module, and what Dand is calling “vibrotactile ticklers”–all merged into a flexible silicon insole. You can slip them into any pair of chucks to make your sneakers smart.
Once installed, the SuperShoes work by connecting via Bluetooth to the smartphone in your pocket, which runs an app called Shoe Central. Using your smartphone’s GPS data, Shoe Central can guide you to where you want to go by sending vibrations to your feet, and telling you when to turn left or right. Dand also says that Shoe Central can learn your patterns over time–it will tickle your toes when it wants to recommend walks you might like or nearby locations you might enjoy.
I think it’s an amazing idea. If you’re a jogger, you’ve probably experienced the annoyance of having to stop your run to check where you are when exploring new routes. Not only could something like SuperShoes take care of the directions for you, it could dynamically plan and update your run to recommend paths and trails that other people have enjoyed taking–and you’d never have to take your smartphone out of your pocket.
Taking an even broader perspective, I think products like SuperShoes represent the true future of wearables. For all the talk, lately, of products such as the iWatch and Google Glass, the true future of wearables is going to be invisible. Wearable technology isn’t going to be as loud and disruptive as smartphones; instead, as sensors get cheaper and more advanced, they’ll come in everything, right down to your shoes.
Although it’s just a conceptual prototype now, it’s easy to see how the SuperShoes technology could be embedded in every pair of Nikes sold. Embedded sensors will be like the extra button that comes with a shirt: there if you want to use it, largely invisible in cost, but not something that will dramatically disrupt your life in and of itself.
One caveat, and frankly a big hurdle to clear before something like SuperShoes becomes a commercial reality: No matter how smart these insoles are, does anyone really want to pull stinky insoles out of their sneakers once a week to charge them?