John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Wearable technology continues to get weirder with these GPS-guided "vibrotactile" sneakers.
Folks who bemoan society's increasing dependence on machines, get ready to throw your flip phones against the wall. Somebody has built a pair of sneakers that eliminate the need for any kind of map, as they nudge you toward a destination by gently tickling your toes.
Dhairya Dand's "SuperShoes" are not technically shoes but squishy, foldable insoles that fit into many kinds of footwear. Embedded in their jellylike flesh are microcontrollers, Bluetooth hardware, and "vibrotactile ticklers," which sound like something you might buy in a truck-stop bathroom but in fact are unique navigational devices. Enter where you want to go on your smartphone, and by buzzing either the left foot or right foot they'll eventually get you there. Additionally, you can enter likes and dislikes into software called "Shoe Central," and the intelligent footwear will guide you toward a favorite Indian restaurant, say, or away from a personal enemy. If they tickle constantly, that means you're near the site of an errand that's on your calendar.
Though this seems like a complicated replacement for Google maps – or to take it back a few years, a hand-drawn map and a functioning brain – Dand asserts that his invention is meant to actually disengage us from technology. "We are so much into our screens that we forget to enjoy the real world," his promo video states. "SuperShoes" allow the wearer to put down their mobile device and "immerse in the beauty of reality." And as noted over at Fashioning Tech, the wired insoles include a feature that might open you up to new experiences:
The novel feature of the SuperShoes is that it can instill “acts of random serendipity” – suggest a different route to work in the morning or suggest a scenic walk for mediation, adding a level of discovery and exploration to one of the best forms of exercise – walking.
Have a look at the possible future of walking: