Most airlines go all out to ensure their passengers have the best possible flight experience. Now, Europe’s low-budget airline EasyJet, wants to extend the positive experience beyond the plane ride with “Sneakairs” — Smart shoes that allow visitors to explore new cities and towns without ever looking at a map.
Unveiled at easyJet’s Barcelona Street Project in mid-March, the smart shoes accomplish this magical feat with the help of a tiny Arduino clone, a Bluetooth module and a vibration motor that are encased in a plastic box and placed beneath the soles. In addition to protecting the electronic components, the box also enables the vibration to spread across the entire foot so that the user doesn’t miss his/her cue to change directions.
To transform Sneakairs from an ordinary shoe to a tour guide, all the wearer has to do is enter his or her desired destination into the easyJet smartphone app. A built-in GPS will determine the wearer’s starting location while the Google Maps navigation tool will help chart the best route. Whenever a change of direction is necessary, the app will communicate with the appropriate shoe via the Bluetooth and cause it to vibrate. For example, if the wearer needs to turn right, he/she will feel the sensation in the right shoe and vice versa. Should the user become engrossed in the surroundings and miss the turn, the smart shoes will both vibrate at the same time, alerting him/her to change course.
Visitors that wander off the suggested path or decide to take a break for a cup of coffee or a meal have nothing to worry about. The smart app will automatically determine the new location and chart out a new route. Once the desired destination is reached, Sneakairs will vibrate three times to inform the user of the arrival and then go back to being ordinary shoes — Until their navigation services are needed again!
Sneakairs is certainly not the first navigation shoe in the market. Lechal has been selling similar footwear and also smart insoles that can be placed in other shoes since 2014. However, EasyJet is the first airline to offer them to passengers just as they are about to land in an unknown city. Similar to Lechal, the airline also hopes to develop smart insoles for those that prefer to wear their own shoes. However, before Sneakairs can go mainstream, the EasyJet team still needs to tweak the prototypes. Among the issues that need to be addressed is the smart shoe’s three-hour battery life, which is hardly enough for a tourist to catch all the delights a new city or town has to offer!
Resources: gizmag.com, wired.com, barcelonastreetproject.com