Apple Patents Smart Shoes That Feature Embedded Sensors, And Alarms For When You Need New Ones

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Apple has been dabbling in wearable tech, at least when it comes to the U.S. Patent Office, and a new application uncovered Thursday by AppleInsider adds to that growing category. Apple has filed for a patent covering so-called “smart shoe” systems which feature sensors that can track wear and usage and tell you when you need to replace them, charting your progress on a companion app for a mobile device, or via built-in LED lights, speakers or displays.

In its description of how this would work, Apple suggests embedding the processor and other electronics in the shoe’s heel, where there is plenty of room to house such components. Sensors can be housed in the sole, heel, and all along the shoe at points where detecting where provides a good indication of how worn out a shoe is getting. The sensors could include simple pedometers, activity or motion detectors that can translate any kind of motion into a timed unit of use (which can tell a user if they’re past the 500 hours recommended for a walking shoe, for instance), or a body bar that can detect weight and resistance to give more of a qualitative measure to use.

The power for the sensors can either be supplied by a built-in battery, or from a generator that uses the actual motion of walking to recharge an energy store. Why not harness kinetic energy when the whole point of what you’re making is to track movement to begin with?

Apple has applied for patents related to shoes before, like the one it was granted last January for embedded sensors in clothing that could inform your workouts. The idea is that the best way to craft workouts to actually help people achieve their goals is by monitoring their actual activity as reported by the garments closest to their bodies, rather than through depending on individuals to report their own habits accurately. Today’s shoe patent filing isn’t focused on health quite as directly, but it could be used in tandem with that kind of system to provide a holistic view of workout and activity habits, including how fast and often you’re wearing out your footwear.

While many companies are looking at wearable computing in the form of smart watches or glasses-based heads-up interfaces (Apple included), there seems to be a background current at Apple devoted to more subtle and invisible incarnations of on-body tech. As with any patents, there’s no guarantee we’ll ever see these inventions ship, but wearable computing is bound to be a growing concern for any major consumer electronics maker in the next few years.