For most of us, getting exercise while running is all about speed and endurance. Getting your heart rate to the proper levels, staying properly hydrated, and finding a killer playlist are part of it as well. Existing digital running companions often focus on these elements by measuring just pulse and breathing rate. However, people constantly strain their joints and frequently injure themselves while running, to say nothing of the habits and postures that cost them performance and calorie-burning. It can be difficult to find these bad habits unless you’re very physically self-aware.
EU Project RUNSAFER, a prototype of smartphone-assisted athletic shoe that wirelessly (via Bluetooth) measures orthopedic as well as biometric factors, takes aim at this problem. Developed by the Kelme brand and led by the Fraunhofer Institute, RUNSAFER “medically evaluates and monitors training while jogging,” Dr. Andreas Heinig of the Photonic Microsystems IPMS Lab explained. “It informs the runner for example of incorrect foot position, asymmetric loading, or warns of exhaustion or overload. There has never been a comparable device before.” Accelerometers are supplemented by GPS for more accurate positioning; they can warn whether the foot is coming down too flat or at too much of an angle. The device and its companion website also make recommendations for training routines and safer habits.
The RUNSAFER components have already had some practical needs taken care of; a charging base station has been developed, and it might use inductive, or wireless, charging technology. The tracking component can also be switched between different footwear, making it an investment likely to last many years. The main practical issue is miniaturizing the system for manufacture, and how much that will cost is unclear. Meanwhile, Google brought a running shoe to SXSW, but it wasn’t quite so advanced, preferring to stay on the motivational side of things: “In case you forgot, it’s left right left right [foot].”