The race of computer technology into our lives will take a hefty leap forward this spring when Adidas introduces the Micro Pacer, an electronic sneaker. For those who'd rather not think on their feet, whether walking to work or running religiously, a computer built into the shoe will register average speed, length of stride and calories used in the effort.
The price will also be stepped up dramatically, from the average $50 for a pair of running shoes to about $125 for this state-of-the-art model.
"Runners are very technical people," says Bill Mintiens, product development manager for sport shoes for Adidas in the United States. "They always record how many miles they've gone and the calories used up compared with their dietary intake."
So Adidas decided to make it easier for them, injecting computer-chip technology into sports shoes. "We wanted to push the forefront of technology as far as we could," Mintiens says. The company "has been pushing material technology in the midsole and outsole. Now we want to blend what is happening with sport science and computer technology with footwear technology."
What they have done, basically, is worked a small computer into the top of one shoe and wired it to the midsole, where a pressure-sensitive switch measures the impact of the foot against the ground.
Everything has been carefully calculated. Only the left shoe is computerized, Mintiens says, because "typically those who run on the road run against traffic. [The computer] is more protected on the left shoe, least likely to get bumped or knocked off." It is on the top of the shoe, he says, not only to be read more easily but because it will get the least abuse there. "It would be squashed if placed under the foot," he points out.
The prestige version of the shoe -- designed in Germany -- will, appropriately, be made with a kangaroo leather upper, described by Mintiens as "the softest, strongest, most supple leather for a shoe." Just as appropriately, the color will be high-tech silver with contrasting stripes and the Adidas logo.
For the U.S. market there will also be a cheaper version, retailing for about $100 at specialty running stores. "Serious runners prefer nylon [to leather] for its wicking ability. It's also lightweight and flexible, and nylon doesn't deteriorate like leather," Mintiens says.
Both leather and nylon styles are to be made on a man's last. "Someone who is likely to buy this shoe is as likely to fit into a man's as woman's last," he says. But if there is a demand for a women's shoe, "then we will add a women's version."
Mintiens, who predicts sales of 30,000 to 50,000 computerized sneakers worldwide, takes questions about repair of the shoes in stride. "Anyone," he says, "can make a simple adjustment with a replacement part."