Did you know that before the invention of knitting and weaving technology, people stuffed grass into their shoes to add comfort and keep moisture away from their feet?
Today, a new wave of technological innovations is pushing socks that offer superpowers: the ability to generate heat in mid-winter, monitor diabetes, track steps, provide feedback on running technique, and even assist in finding a lost half of a sock pair. These are smart socks.
What are smart socks? Do they represent the future, or are they a passing phase? Why would anyone need smart socks? These are the questions we will answer in this article. Let’s start by following a brief history of socks.
Socks Through the Ages
Today, the miniaturization of batteries has led to the development of innovative socks such as heated ski socks, socks that can remotely monitor signals and diabetes, and socks with the technology to locate them at any given moment—but where did all this start?
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s website Cbc.ca has the answer. The broadcaster tells the story of how socks developed over time, going back to ancient times when people used to wrap knotted animal hair and skin around their feet.
When the Egyptians started hand knitting socks around AD 300–500, spaces would be left for the toes to make it easier to wear them with sandals. By AD 1000, socks had become a staple for the wealthy.
This would change about 500 years later when knitting machines made the process faster and cheaper. This resulted in more people being able to afford socks. By 2018, the global socks market was valued at $42.2 billion. Around 21 billion pairs of socks were sold in 2019.
If indeed we are producing 21 billion pairs of socks per year, it means that on average, each of us is buying more than two pairs of socks annually. These socks are used in different areas, including cycling, jumping on the trampoline, or doing fitness exercises.
Keeping Your Feet Warm in Freezing Temperatures
One of the main reasons people avoid outdoor activities and spending time on the ski slopes during winter is that they are afraid of the pain associated with freezing feet. If this has been your excuse before, you may need to think of a new one because heated socks are becoming more common.
But how do the socks generate heat? In an article for the Meredith Corporation-owned Travelandleisure.com, Rebecca Carhart provides the answer. She says, “These high-tech accessories boast battery-operated wiring throughout the socks that will heat up to your liking.”
Carhart adds, “Along with long battery lives that will keep your feet nice and toasty for hours at a time, these cold-weather essentials also have different heat settings to choose from, so you can increase the socks’ temperature as necessary.”
It’s hard to imagine how a battery in socks can contain so much energy to keep your feet heated for up to 24 hours. Mike Dixon, a reviewer for The-gadgeteer.com, produced a comprehensive review of a heated socks brand with three heat settings: high, medium, and low.
Dixon explains that the battery requires between five and six hours to fully charge, which means that it’s best to charge it overnight. He adds that the “The socks heat rapidly, reaching temperature in about 1 minute.” The socks come with a dedicated pocket for carrying the battery.
Kelly Bastone, who writes for the Outside Interactive Inc.-owned Outsideonline.com, also tried a pair of heated socks on the ski slopes of Steamboat in Colorado. She explains that the socks come with a little key fob that allows you to toggle between settings without the need to access the socks from under your ski pants.
Bastone reports that the socks worked quite well. For instance, she says, “On the lowest heat setting, my toes stayed comfortable down to zero degrees for up to seven hours.”
Socks That Remotely Monitor Signals and Diabetes
Wearable technology introduces several useful benefits into the health care arena because it involves things that people take almost everywhere, such as their smartphones and watches. If watches and smartphones have the disadvantage that you have to take them off when you go to sleep, socks present a solution because you can wear them all the time.
Some companies have made great strides in developing smart socks that monitor the wearer’s health. For instance, Siren, a developer of foot monitoring systems used to detect and treat diabetic symptoms, has created Siren Socks.
According to Siren, the socks “measure foot temperature to help reduce your risk of ulcers.” The company adds, “Rising foot temperature indicates that inflammation is developing, which may be a sign of injury.”
Siren smart socks send information to health professionals, helping them find injuries that patients may not be feeling. The company says, “This may help reduce the risk of diabetic foot ulcers and other foot complications.”
Another company that has developed smart socks is Owlet from Canada. Owlet’s technology focuses on babies. The company says that the socks “Track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep and [sends] notifications if baby needs to be checked on.”
Helping Runners Improve Technique and Track Progress
To ensure that runners avoid running styles that could lead to injury, a company called Sensoria has developed a solution: Sensoria smart socks. The company promises that by using these socks, you will ensure that you are not one of the “65% of runners [that] get injured each year.”
Sensoria smart socks are designed to monitor how a runner comes into contact with the ground while running. When you strike the ground with the heel or ball of your foot, the socks will send an alert.
The sensors on Sensoria smart socks can also count the steps that the wearer takes. The metronome feature or voice feedback will tell you if you are running the desired steps per minute. Added to this, the company promises that “The Sensoria Virtual Coach within the app continuously monitors your running form and provides you real-time feedback through audio and video cues during your run.”
TechCrunch.com’s Natasha Lomas went running in Sensoria smart socks and explained the technology. She reports that “Sensoria’s wearable device consists of a pair of socks, containing its ‘e-textile technology.” She describes textile technology as “basically … pressure sensors [that] can figure out which bits of your foot are taking the weight as you run.”
Lomas adds that the socks also have a “clip-on Bluetooth 4.0 device that also contains an accelerometer and altimeter, and attaches to the ankle of the sock via magnets.” You can detach the accelerometer and altimeter when you wash your smart socks.
Sensoria smart socks can also detect when the wearer has been inactive for some time. Lomas reports that when the socks haven’t counted any steps in a specific period, they assume that you are sitting and send an alert so that you can take a break from the screen.
In 2017, Sensoria announced that it had developed a new version of its socks: Sock 2.0. Michael Sawh of Wareable.com reports that the new version is “Made from antibacterial, anti-blistering and sweat-wicking material, [and] the new smart socks are apparently two times lighter than the first version, while the improved pressure sensors are now better protected from sweat and water.”
No More Missing Socks
We all know how it feels when you have ten socks in the drawer, but you can’t find an identical pair. Well, it looks like this problem will soon be a story of the past as companies are introducing technology that can help you locate missing socks.
The company behind the technology that allows your socks to speak to your phone is BlackSocks from Switzerland.
But what does the technology do exactly? According to BlackSocks, quite a lot, including telling you:
- How to sort out your socks by showing you which ones belong together.
- How often you have washed your socks.
- When your socks were produced.
- When you ordered your socks.
- When your socks were dispatched.
Your iPhone can also tell you when your socks are too old, and you need to get new ones.
Odditycentral.com reviewed the smart socks from BlackSocks and reports that “this system involves Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips on the socks, a handheld device that decodes the info on these chips, as well as a dedicated app for your smartphone.”
The Future of Smart Socks
If the technology we present above is impressive, we may only be seeing the beginning of what’s coming down the road. The increasing interest by a wide range of companies to invest in smart socks shows that this is not a passing fad but a technology that will define the future, particularly in the health and wellness sector.
An article published by the journal Flexible Electronics predicts that socks will also become a part of deep learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual reality applications. These applications could collect information about gait, which, among other purposes, informs medical professionals if something is wrong with a specific individual.