Running shoes that sense and adapt

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Adidas has developed a running shoe that senses changes in surface conditions and running style and adjusts the amount of heel cushioning accordingly.

Technology analyst Rob Enderle was quoted in the NY Times, "Of all items of clothing, the shoe is a logical one to be a focus of wearable technology. Unlike articles of clothing that must be washed or cleaned, shoes present a more stable place to add useful electronics."

Washing is one challenge, but designing new interaction techniques for articles of clothing is another. The interface on the Adidas shoe consists of two buttons (one with a "+" and one with a "-") for adjusting the desired cushioning level. The symbols are ambiguous though. Does "+" mean more firm or more cushiony? There's also a row of five tiny LEDs that indicates the current setting. I've found that light patterns aren't always as easy to interpret as designers expect them to be, so hopefully the mapping is straightforward and has been tested with potential wearers.

I'm a little bothered that Adidas is planning on shipping the shoes with a CD-ROM to explain how to use them and change the batteries. Granted, people may initially need some extra help learning how to interact with computerized shoes, but ultimately these types of products need to be designed in a way that doesn't require extensive instructions.

The shoe, called the Adidas 1, is slated to come out in December with a price tag of $250.

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