Steps to leaps

Coffee Time Challenge: Sponsored by Micro-Epsilon

There is a fair amount of buzz around wearable technology at the moment. But while everyone is seemingly talking about it, few are consistently wearing it. The problem is, beyond the initial spell of gimmicky expectation, what is the real value?

Perhaps one of the most popular 'wearable techs' in recent years is the pedometer. While it is nice to know just how many steps you've done over the course of the day – and perhaps motivate you to do more – the often inaccurate and limited output is enough to turn many off after a while.
The hype, though, is not without some merit. People genuinely want to find out more about this aspect of their daily lives and the corresponding health benefits.

The Challenge
The challenge this month is to therefore come up with a better method of counting your daily steps. Any device should not be limited to just counting though, but yield other pieces of useful information beyond distance, time and calories burnt. This could include cadence, stride length and stride time, the impact of the foot on a surface, feedback on gait and so on.

Armed with this information, the device should also be able to go a step further and give users specific feedback and coaching on aspects relating to certain activities, from acting as a marathon coach to analysing a golf swing. In addition, it might suggest a move to more high impact training mixed in with longer jogs, or encourage regular walkers to take on runs.

There should also be medical benefits. For example, identifying ankle angle at time of landing (known as out-toeing and in-toeing gait), gait coaching, left and right gait comparisons, as well as identifying any gait abnormalities that can be used to point to signs of spinal musculoskeletal disease. Other healthcare benefits would also be to monitor the activity and rehabilitation of patients that have undergone surgery or had a stroke.

Any device needs to be non-obtrusive and the wearer should be virtually unaware that they are being monitored. The data should be easy to access and quick to give users useful information. And above all, it must be extremely accurate! So perhaps the wrist is not the right place to monitor the foot's activities?

As always, the idea we have in mind will be published next month but if you have any entertaining or interesting solutions then feel free to leave a comment on the Coffee Time Challenge section of the website or email the editor at

Our solution comes from South Korean firm 3L Labs. Engineers there have developed the Foot Logger insoles that are clad with a suite of various sensors including 3-axis accelerometers and eight pressure sensors at various key points on the foot.

These light and unobtrusive insoles can log up to 50,000 footprints over the course of a day on its built in flash memory and can run 24 hours per charge on its integrated battery.

These then dock to a ‘Shoe Station’ that is able to both download the data via Bluetooth where it is analysed and sent via wifi to an app on the user’s phone for easy and quick assessment of the day’s activities. The Shoe Station also wirelessly charges the insoles.

Critically, however, the multiple pressure sensors allow the user to see how they distribute weight across their feet during various activities. This allows athletes to see if their weight distribution during something like a golf swing, as well as monitoring the progress of people in need of rehabilitation.