Smart Shoes Could Help Runners Hit Their Stride

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Running shoes may soon be smart enough to tell their wearers how to improve their technique, which could prevent injuries.

A combination of sensor technology, wireless communications and smartphone apps is transforming the humble running shoe into a sophisticated monitoring device. By closely monitoring how and where the runner's foot hits the ground, and how often, innovators are finding ways to identify problems with a runner's gait.

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One such running shoe effort is the RunSafer project, which is ongoing at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, in partnership with other universities and a shoe manufacturer. The researchers are building a running shoe that has sensors to transmit data to a smartphone, and then to a computer.

The shoe's sensor logs data about the runner's foot speed as it hits the ground, as well as its orientation in space, the duration of contact with the ground and the runner's stride length. If the phone is out of Bluetooth range, the shoe will also store the data.

That data enables the software to calculate the forces acting on the foot. "It will tell you if the gait is correct," said Andreas Heinig, a scientist at Fraunhofer who manages the wireless microsystems group. "The running provides real-time feedback."

A gait that is slightly wrong can be a sign of injury, or plain old bad habits. But a bad gait can cause injuries, just as overtraining or falls can. The software can help the runner create a better running regimen. [10 Fitness Apps: Which Is Best for Your Personality?]

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There are still experiments to be done to improve the technology before it becomes available to consumers. The shoes could be on store shelves within two years, Heinig told LiveScience.

The project is just one of several such efforts coming out of the shoe industry, said Jay Dicharry, a physical therapist and lab director at the REP Biomechanics Lab in Bend, Ore. Pressure plates have been inserted into running shoes before, but in recent years, the technology has grown more sophisticated, he said.