These aren’t your typical light-up shoes. Hahna Alexander is on a mission to create ‘unplugged tech that never dies’. It just so happens to be housed in a pair of shoes. SolePower, which she originally founded in 2012 with Matthew Stanton, is a start-up that has created unplugged Smart Boots that are powered solely by movement. It’s an idea that the US Army has helped fund and had her announced as one of the 2017 winners of the Toyota Mothers of Invention (which gives each honouree a grant of $50,000). So, what makes these Smart Boots stand out from the rest?
How it Works
It looks like a typical work boot. However, it took 20 versions of this shoe concept to achieve a spectrum of features that promote efficiency and safety. The magic lies in their power-generating shoe insert, which contains their patented kinetic charger. This converts leg movement into electrical energy which is then stored in an external battery. Or as they explain on their website, ‘The kinetic energy of the heel strike is transferred into the mechanical system, which uses it to spin a micro-generator’. It was an engineering class project at Carnegie Mellon University that figured out a way to harvest the kinetic energy, which can be used to charge portable electronics such as your cell phone. In order to cut down on the heavy luggage the troops carry, approximately 20 pounds worth of backup batteries, the US Army is testing SolePower’s charger as a possible alternative.
The boot heel does have a rectangular section that lights up when the wearer starts walking; for two good reasons. Firstly, it indicates that the device is successfully charging, and secondly, it increases visibility. It this reason that they switched their strategy from everyday shoe to ‘self-charging, industrial wearable’. By placing the charger at the back of the boot, they realised that they could also incorporate sensors such as temperature, GPS for location and accelerometers for motion and movement.
What it Can Do
So, we already know that the kinetic energy can be used to charge your phone. To be specific, two hours of walking can produce about an hour’s worth of talk time on an iPhone. The location-tracking ability may be disconcerting for many but when you consider that it’s made with high-risk careers in mind – such as firefighters, miners, soldiers, construction workers – it’s an asset. The sensors can also be programmed to help detect sources of danger. Location and motion data can provide the workforce with insight that can keep them alert and safe. Take for example a gas company could use it to detect gas leaks or a geothermal plant could detect temperature levels to let employees know it’s getting too hot.
The kinetic energy can be used to charge your phone. To be specific, two hours of walking can produce about an hour’s worth of talk time on an iPhone.
SolePower isn’t available to the public just yet. They have chosen to target the industrial work forces, i.e. the construction as well as the oil and gas industry, first. They are also working on a version of the boots specifically for firefighters. It will have more lights to help with the poor visibility that comes with smoke and fire. That way, they can easily keep tabs on each other and avoid using up oxygen in panic. Banking on these industries first makes sense; considering that it’s estimated the world will spend $57 trillion on infrastructure by 2030. With the size of workforce required and the probability of accidents, having such tech improves efficiency across the board.
As we’ve highlighted in our previous wearable technology series, innovation inconspicuously comes in to improve our daily experiences and transforms society. A feat SolePower is accomplishing through their shoes. Industry executives have confirmed that there simply isn’t enough in ‘feet management’ (taking care of personnel on the ground), as opposed to the multiple options when it comes to fleet management. Commercialising this product could very well be the much-needed asset the industry requires.
Not to mention that the public could benefit from it too. Can you imagine a future where you can place this insole into your trainers or high heels, capturing all that wasted energy we lose to our surrounding environment? It could very well be a reality soon; smart phone users rejoice. The fact that it’s one less thing you must plug into a socket is music to our ears. This is unquestionably one shoe project whose evolution we’ll be keeping tabs on.