Saturday, July 30, 2005

Smart shoes decide on television time

Sports shoes that work out whether their owner has done enough exercise to warrant time in front of the television have been devised in the UK.

The shoes - dubbed Square Eyes - contain an electronic pressure sensor and a tiny computer chip to record how many steps the wearer has taken in a day. A wireless transmitter passes the information to a receiver connected to a television, and this decides how much evening viewing time the wearer deserves, based on the day's exertions.

The design was inspired by a desire to combat the rapidly ballooning waistlines among British teenagers, says Gillian Swan, who developed Square Eyes as a final year design project at Brunel University in London, UK. "We looked at current issues and childhood obesity really stood out," she told New Scientist. "And I wanted to tackle that with my design."

Once a child has used up their daily allowance gained through exercise, the television automatically switches off. And further time in front of the TV can only be earned through more steps.
Daily amounts

Swan calculated how exercise should translate to television time using the recommended daily amounts of both. Health experts suggest that a child take 12,000 steps each day and watch no more than two hours of television. So, every 100 steps recorded by the Square Eyes shoes equates to precisely one minute of TV time.

The first prototype has two sensors in the sole - one that record steps and another, in the heel, that can be used to send data to the receiver with a firm stamp.

"It's a good idea for integrating sensors into clothing," says Cliff Randall, at Bristol University, UK, who believes computers will routinely be built into garments in the future. But Randall says it will be more challenging to build a TV control unit that cannot easily be thwarted. "It's got to be easy to install and difficult to bypass," he adds.

Existing pedometers normally clip onto a belt or slip into a pocket and keep count of steps by measuring sudden movement. Swan says these can be easily tricked into recording steps through shaking. But her shoe has been built to be harder for lazy teenagers to dupe. "It is possible, but it would be a lot of effort," she says. "That was one of my main design considerations."