US inventor files patent for 'smart' shoes

Frampton E Ellis wants to see footwear that, with the aid of a smartphone, can adapt to a wearer's feet to prevent injury.

Smartphones have become an important part of many people's lives. And smart eyewear – Google Glass – and smart watches look set to become part of people's everyday attire. Now a US inventor – Frampton E Ellis – wants to make footwear smart, too.

Ellis, of Jasper, Florida, has already been granted a number of patents, including the snappily titled 'Surgically implantable electronic and/or electromechanical prosthetic device enclosed in an inner bladder surrounded by an outer bladder and having an internal sipe between bladders' (US patent number 8,562,678).

One of his latest patent filings envisages a new kind of smartphone-controlled shoe. Ellis believes that most modern shoes are poorly designed, he writes in the patent application, which was published today.

Modern footwear "is structurally flat instead of wrapping around the anatomically rounded shape of an intended wearer's foot sole as required in order to preserve the naturally superior biomechanical stability of the intended wearer's bare foot sole."

However, making shoes that more closely mimic the complex structure of people's feet is a troublesome proposition. "The result is that nearly all commercially available footwear available currently significantly degrade the natural stability of the barefoot, resulting in needless chronic and acute injuries," the application states.

"With no practical alternatives, a wearer of modern footwear is forced into a lifetime of defective footwear use that all too frequently results in anatomical structure and gait problems that cause severe chronic injury to joints and other health issues."

Ellis' solution to this problem is shoes that can be adapted to people's feet by having a sole that can bend upwards and fit themselves to a foot instead of remaining flat. The new soles "preserve most if not all of the essential biomechanical superiority of the barefoot in natural pronation and supination motion, even when shod with any of the variations of the new sole inventions described in this application—as long as the footwear sole's concave rounding is configured to deform under a body weight load to flatten against the flat ground, as does a barefoot sole."

Going one step further, Ellis envisages the use of a smartphone's motion sensors and computational abilities and in-shoe sensors that can provide biomechanical feedback. Shoes with special inflatable and deflatable 'bladders' and a series of compartments could be controlled by the smartphone in real-time, adjusting the footwear to the user's feet.

"One example would be to correct for excessive lateral movement of the user/wearer's center of gravity to one side more than another, as measured in the frontal plane, compared to an established norm less prone to injury. Another example, which can be related, is to reduce the crossover of right and/or left extremities (legs and/or feet) across the centerline of the user/wearer's body, as measured in the wearer's frontal plane during locomotion.

"Pre-programmed solutions can be applied using the user/wearer's smartphone and/or a cloud, and real time or subsequent testing can be conducted, including by the third parties like a doctor or other professional or technician referenced earlier, by using the smartphone, including to connect directly to the third party or parties or to a cloud for shared or independent operations."

The aim, ultimately, is to prevent long- and short-term injuries to wearers.

"The smartphone device and/or the apparatus and/or the footwear and/or the peripheral devices with sensors can be used as a medical system or a medical tool to prevent or reduce the gradual deterioration of bone and/or joint structure in an adult wearer through non-surgical means," the application states.

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