For several years now, GPS technology has kept directionally-challenged drivers from getting lost. Putting GPS to work for people without wheels was a logical next step. Now, at least two companies are offering shoes outfitted with GPS. And although they’re marketed mostly to parents and family members who want to keep track of loved ones, they're useful for just about anyone.
We may not have jet boots or anti-gravity sneakers just yet, but today’s footwear is evolving. The latest in miniaturized technology makes it possible for our clothes to contribute to our lives in meaningful ways, including shoes that keep you on course. There's also talk of spreading this technology into other useful applications.
Let’s take a look at the latest from the world of GPS shoes. (Read about more wearable technology in Fashion for the Uber-Geek.)
Keeping Tabs on Loved Ones
A leading company in GPS technology, GTX Corp. produces customizable, two-way tracking location solutions for a variety of consumer and business applications. In 2007, the company introduced the Xplorer Smart Shoe.
Designed for concerned parents, these smart shoes used geofencing to keep track of little ones. Parents can program the GPS chip in the shoes with a defined "safe area" around home or school, setting the boundaries for where kids can wander. However, in more recent years, GTX has moved toward producing shoes for adults who suffer from dementia, autism, Alzheimer's and other mental or neurological disorders. The Aetrex GPS Shoe, powered by GTX, was created to bring peace of mind to those whose loved ones have a tendency to wander off and become lost or confused.
The shoes contain a GPS tracking device that's embedded in the base of the heel. The device constantly transmits location coordinates to a central monitoring system, and the shoes - along with the person wearing them - can be located quickly at any time through a Web-based monitoring dashboard.
A GPS shoe by GTX, Flickr/gaspar
One potential drawback to this system that the tracking service isn't quite global: it only works in the continental United States.
As people age, technology that helps keep them safe has become particularly important. That helps to explain why this design has been inducted into the National Museum of Science and Technology in Sweden, joining such inventions as antibiotics, the steam engine, the telephone and the Internet in an exhibition that highlights the "100 most important inventions in the history of mankind."
Click Your Heels to Go Home
While this fun, unique shoe isn't yet on the market, designer Dominic Wilcox has created a fully functioning (and very stylish) prototype of a shoe that'll help you find your way home with a click of your heels, just like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."
The shoes feature an implanted GPS device in the heel with a short antenna that points out the back. LEDs are embedded into the toes, and they light up when a program is activated. Using custom software and a USB cable, you can upload your destination to the shoes; when you click the heels together, the left shoe's LEDs provide a directional arrow, while the right displays a progress bar showing how far you have left to go.
Wilcox was commissioned by the Global Footprint project in Northamptonshire, England, to create the shoes. Although they have been on display in London, there's been no news yet on when these shoes might be available for public purchase.
What's next for GPS?
GPS technology, which is maintained by the United States government and freely available for public use, has already been incorporated into a range of consumer products beyond personal navigation systems for vehicles, including cameras, smartphones, laptop computers, pet collars and, of course, shoes. There's also the familiar Google Maps Street View project, which was created using GPS to make nearly every populated space on the planet searchable through an interactive photo map from any computer.
Future advances in GPS technology will provide even more opportunities to help us pinpoint where we are, and where we're going. In 2011, the U.S. began testing the next generation of GPS satellites as part of a $5.5 billion upgrade to GPS technology that should lead to clearer, high-powered signals for civilian use.
Some applications for GPS advancement will involve location-based commercial services. In fact, many smartphones already have this technology; you can walk by a restaurant or clothing store, and receive a text letting you know about the latest specials or discount offers. These services will become more immediate, convenient and informative as GPS technology is developed further.
Undoubtedly, there are greater things ahead for GPS than shoes. For now, though, these gadgets are out to make our lives a little easier to navigate, one step at a time.