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Can these running shoes outsmart you?

Adidas delivers its athletic footwear of the future, a shoe designed around a microprocessor. Photos: Watch them run

In its quest to make the perfect running shoe, Adidas is turning to components more likely to be found in a computer.

Adidas-1 gallery

The German sneaker and sports apparel maker on Friday began selling the first model of its so-called intelligent footwear, a running shoe known simply as Adidas-1 that's built around an onboard microprocessor. Retailing for $250, the white and gold shoes have the capability, Adidas says, to automatically adjust themselves to respond to a wearer's changing needs for greater or smaller amounts of cushioning around the feet.

Any runner will tell you that the right shoes are key to success. The wrong fit or cushioning can hurt performance and cause injury, while the perfect shoe can help a runner tear up the pavement.

According to Adidas, a division of sporting goods conglomerate Adidas-Salomon, the sneakers use a sensor and magnet to feed information to the microprocessor, indicating whether a runner's cushioning level is too soft or too firm. The processor then actuates a motor-driven cable system built into the arch of the shoe that changes the amount of padding applied to the wearer's foot. Adidas said that changes in the cushioning are made gradually, so that all a runner is supposed to notice is that the shoes fit snugly.

The company contends that the adaptive design of Adidas-1--which was a guarded secret at the company during the three years the product was being developed--closely mirrors the operation of human reflex nerves, adjusting to changes in weight and pressure.

Inside the shoe, the sensor sits below a runner's heel, while the magnet is attached at the bottom of the midsole--the layer of material between the inside and outside soles. On impact, the sensor measures the distance from the top to the bottom of the midsole and records the amount of compression being applied to the sneaker. Once that reading is sent to the processor, the shoe's brain automatically adjusts the padding where necessary.


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Adidas says that the overall system collects roughly 1,000 measurements per second, and that the processor is capable of making 5 million calculations per second. The company also said that software written specifically for use in the sneakers compares the compression readings received from the sensor to a preset range of settings to determine whether the shoe is too soft or too firm.

The sneakers require a small, replaceable battery, which Adidas said lasts for roughly 100 hours of running, or what it expects to be the normal life for a pair of its shoes.