I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and folks in the startup scene. When it comes to wearables, the one question I come back to again and again is, "What can this give me that my smartphone and laptop cannot?"
It's not a particularly sophisticated question, but it's a critical one. These devices tend to justify themselves as alternatives to reaching into a bag for a mobile phone.
Hand-based wearables—like bands, watches and jewellery—make up the primary wearables market at the moment. But as these gadgets get more advanced and become smaller, some developers are looking to take them beyond the upper extremities to other parts of the body. In fact, some of the most exciting and innovative developments are happening in products designed for the feet.
"Back To The Future" Shoes
Self-lacing Nike Mag Shoes
Nike took futuristic footwear out of Back to the Future and put it into prototype with the Nike Mag, advancing what was coined the Nike Mag’s “power laces,” with digital technology. The result is an individually responsive system that senses the wearer’s motion to provide adaptive on-demand comfort and support. You can even check out a video of Michael J Fox trying them on. With this kind of adaptive technology, it seems like the future has arrived.
Digitsole's Smart Foot-Warming Technology
Anyone who has ever suffered from cold feet will be interested in Digitsole, the first-ever connected, heated insole designed for athletes and anyone who gets cold feet. The temperature of the innersole is controlled via smartphone, which can also track calories and steps. I've tried it on, and it does indeed warm quite well, with a maximum temperature of 113°F (45°C). It takes up to three minutes to heat and stay warm for up to 6 hours. The retail price is \$199.
GPS Smart Sole
Shoe embedded GPS tracking for nervous executives and the cognitively impaired.
The problem with wearables is that you have to remember to wear them. These GPS shoes inserts are designed to track people with cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer's, Dementia, Autism and traumatic brain injuries who may forget to wear a device.
Marketed to geriatric housing providers, adult children caring for parents and executives fearful of kidnapping, GPS Smart Sole features a miniature embedded GPS tracking device and a rechargeable battery that lasts 2-3 days on a single charge. The device sends a signal to the central monitoring website, which shows the wearer's exact location. The retail price is \$299 with additional payments required for a data plan.
Change your shoes without removing your shoes
Not all wearables have to be functional. Some can just be creative for creative's sake. Shiftware sneakersoffer the latest in bendable, wearable, waterproof HD displays, all in a pair of shoes featuring color e-paper displays in their sides. The wearer can use a corresponding app to display designs and animations, and even sell their designs through the app. The shoes aren't for general release but pre-launch prices started at \$150.
Roller skating will never be the same.
Roller skating is no longer a pastime enjoyed only by small children and roller derby aficionados. Rocket Skates were launched launched at last year's CES, the world's first remote-free, strap-in, smart electric skates.
To start rolling, the wearer simply kicks off, tilting the skates forward to accelerate (up to a speed of 10 mph); the user tilts the skates backwards on the heels to apply the breaks. They come in a variety of styles, with retail price beginning at \$499.
RocketSkates include a corresponding iOS and Android App app, and an open software development kit lets developers create custom apps, games, or integrate with other devices, such as watches or glasses. The skates look fun, but the price may be too much of a deterrent for, perhaps, anyone but the wealthy or the most devoted roller skaters—especially as the company admits they aren't easy to roll in.
Quell Pain Relief
Drug free pain relief through wearables.
The extensive testing and processes required for Food And Drug Administration clearance are significant barriers in the medical wearable market. Successfully crowdfunded last April, Quell is the only FDA-cleared, 100% drug-free wearable device clinically proven to relieve chronic pain.
The Quell device (which is actually designed for the leg, not the foot) sits in a sport band, with an electrode snapped onto the back of the device. The band then wraps around the upper calf, so the electrode maintains direct contact with the wearer's skin. The device stimulates the nerves in the upper calf, sending neural pulses to the brain and, supposedly, tapping into the body's natural pain relief response. Pre-calibrated quantities of endogenous opioids should then release into the spine, where pain signals are blocked in the body. A Quell Starter Kit and six-month supply of Quell Electrodes costs \$398.75.
Urine operating wearables
This one sounds like something from an episode of a Bear Grylls TV show: A team of researchers from the University of West England has developed what it claims is the "first self-sufficient system powered by a wearable energy generator based on microbial fuel cell technology."
To be specific, it's a pair of socks that uses urine to generate electricity.
The team embedded soft microbial fuel cells (MFCs) into an ankle device and a pump into the heel of the sock. Walking around in the socks allows urine to circulate through integrated tubes that run toward the MFCs, which contain bacteria that guzzle nutrients and create electricity.
According to the researchers:
"It is possible to envisage wearable transmission systems that have a purpose of transmitting a person's coordinates, in e.g. a case of emergency, which can operate when fed with just urine. A venture in this direction not only widens the range of applications that MFCs could be implemented in, but also introduces the concept of built-in 'proof of life' capability, since the device will only operate if the person wearing it, urinates inside it. This...may unlock further possibilities in outdoor gear, military equipment, operations at sea, as well as survival kits.
\ It's worth noting that a number of foot-focused wearables may one day be worn subcutaneously, especially for products like GPS tracking devices and pain management tools. Right now, foot-based wearables may not grab the public's attention as much as hand or head gear, but if the push toward development is any indication, they could be the way of the future.
Images courtesy of the respective companies listed