The concept of the wearable fitness tracker was already tried in the 80s but met with harsh criticism. What does this mean for the wearable future?
Wearables are everywhere right now. We're all expecting this upcoming year to bring an explosion of more wearable tech. Items like the Fitbit and the Nike Fuel Band tend to come up frequently in conversations as shining examples of how wearables can be useful and successful.
Occasionally someone mentions that Nike actually had a shoe with an embedded sensor before its Fuel Band was a twinkle in an engineer's eye. Embedding sensors in a shoe always seemed like a great idea to me, and the shoe is the first place I had personally seen any integration or wearable tech inside clothing.
Today, however, I was fairly surprised to find that Puma and Adidas had been experimenting with wearable tech in their shoes in the mid 80s! As you can see in this picture, a pair of Puma running shoes was outfitted with a small computer that would track statistics about each session. This clunky attachment could keep track of foot strikes, then dump that data to an Apple IIe for analysis. Using previously entered information about the runner, the computer would attempt to display data such as calories burnt, distance traveled, etc. You could even program the device on the shoe to beep after a certain number of strides (an assumed distance based on previously entered stride length), enabling the shoe to notify you when you're finished running.
Image courtesy of Digibarn. Click here for more pictures of the shoes.
Judging by the popularity of the Fitbit and Nike items, these shoes were ahead of their time. The concept was solid. The technology just hadn't been miniaturized enough to really forget you were using it. The cost was also incredibly prohibitive. The shoes ranged from $100 to $200 in the 1980s ($200 to $500 today) and you had to already own an Apple IIe. This cost cut the amount of prospective buyers down quickly. Compare that to now where a computer is in every home and on almost every individual! And we can track a multitude of statistics in devices we can literally forget we're wearing, and at a cost much easier to swallow. The Nike Fuel Band noted above is on the more expensive side at $150, but compared with the Puma, it's a virtual super computer.
I'm personally excited about the future of wearable tech. I'm not particularly invested in the sports aspect of it, but I can't wait to see what happens as the technology gets even smaller and cheaper. I can't wait to see what happens when sensors and computing power are threaded into the very fibers from which our clothing is constructed. I haven't seen many prototypes that scream at me with potential, but then again, people really didn't see the point of the Puma prototype either.
— Caleb Kraft, Chief Community Editor, EE Times