Sneaker Technology: Headlights on Your Foot

Sneaker technology is going places. Not that it is traveling, but manufacturers are imbibing the humble sneaker with special powers that help the wearer. One of such gadgets is the Smart Concept Sole from Vibram. Sneakers made by the company have a remote controlled LED lighting system. Wearers can choose to illuminate the ground ahead at night as they walk. In addition, Vibram is planning to embed more sensors within the soles of their sneakers to warn the wearer of environmental hazards invisible to him/her.

The LED lights on the Vibram sneaker soles work like mini flashlights. This concept is useful for tactical boots, running shoes, work shoes and more. In addition to the front LED lights, the sole also has a red tail light, making the wearer visible from behind. Vibram demonstrated their Smart Concept Sole at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in the Salt Lake City at Utah.

According to Vibram, inspiration for the Smart Concept Sole came from tactical needs for things such as firefighting, law enforcement, and military operations. The sole has an integrated electronic board controlling the integrated hardware and a fob-sized remote control unit. The user can replace the standalone remote with an application on his/her smartphone.

The lighting system forms the most universally useful application for the Smart Concept Sole. Switched on by the user, the integrated LEDs throw a diffused array of light on the path ahead. This allows the user to see where they are going in the dark. This is a better than using a hand-held flashlight, as the lights on the sole allow the user to maintain a low profile. The front LEDs come with three brightness settings, with a flash setting for the red LED tail light. That increases the wearer visibility when indulging in activities such as running at night.

Although kids have been using flashing lights on their shoes for long, the Smart Concept Sole has unique capabilities going farther than path illumination alone. According to Vibram, they are planning to stock the sneaker soles with a variety of sensors that can provide a warning system for users. For example, a gas sensor could monitor for hazardous gases. This is particularly useful in law enforcement and for firefighting.

Similarly, a proximity sensor on the foot could monitor if there were any obstacles in scenarios such as in smoke-filled buildings, unfamiliar territory, and dark places. In the same way, a temperature sensor could warn of high temperatures underfoot.

Apart from LEDs on the soles, Vibram also makes special soles that allow the user to have maximum grip on ice, slippery terrain, and wet surfaces. That improves the safety of the user in difficult conditions. They make the sole from three layers. The outer layer is made of rubber, the next from a special fabric and the inner layer is of a polyurethane compound. These layers help in improving the grip of the sole in slippery terrains.

The special sole from Vibram is highly adaptive to low temperature conditions because of its soft make. The rubber and fabric provide perfect adhesion without the risk of delamination or abrasion.