Dynamically Adustable Impact-Buffering Sports Shoe
Kind Code:

An item of wearware, such as a shoe, comprises a buffer configured for enabling to dynamically regulate an effect of a next impact on the item in operational use of the item, under control of the intensity of the previous impact.

Dunias, Paraskevas (Eindhoven, NL)
Application Number:
Publication Date:
Filing Date:
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
36/29, 36/35B, 36/114
International Classes:
A43B7/14; A43B5/00; A43B13/20; A43B21/28; B62J99/00; G01M1/22; G01M17/02
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20080289225Hem and clothing protectorNovember, 2008Ali et al.
20010022041TORSION SYSTEM FOR AN ARTICLE OF FOOTWEARSeptember, 2001Gebhard
20080148599Footwear inserts, including midsoles, sockliners, footbeds and/or upper components using granular ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) and method of manufactureJune, 2008Collins
20090293305Full length airbagDecember, 2009Pelsue et al.
20050229435Composite shoeOctober, 2005Shih
20060254091Boot fitting aid for alpine ski bootsNovember, 2006Riecke
20030172550Sports shoe for a gliding sportSeptember, 2003Balconi et al.
20070101619Plastic shoe provided with decoration, method of manufacturing same and casting moldMay, 2007Bensing et al.
20070044345Air cushionMarch, 2007Yang
20100024254WATERPROOF, BREATHABLE SHOEFebruary, 2010Combs
20090007457SHOESJanuary, 2009Skirrow

Primary Examiner:
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
1. An item of wearware, comprising a buffer configured for enabling to dynamically regulate an effect of a next impact on the item in operational use of the item.

2. The item of claim 1, wherein the buffer is configured for wireless communication with a user interface for enabling a user of the item to dynamically regulate the effect based on a user input.

3. The item of claim 1, wherein the buffer is configured to regulate the effect of the next impact under control of a sensor for sensing a value of a parameter representative of a previous impact in operational use of the item.

4. The item of claim 3, accommodating the sensor.

5. The item of claim 3, configured for wireless communication between the sensor and the buffer.

6. The item of claim 1, comprising footgear.

7. The item of claim 3, wherein the buffer functionally comprises: an air chamber; an air pump connected to the air chamber; a relief valve connected to the air chamber; a controller coupled to at least one of the pump and the valve for under control of the sensor controlling a setting of the pump or/and the valve.

8. The item of claim 7, wherein the controller is programmable or user-programmable.

9. A buffer for use with an item of wearware and configured for enabling to regulate an effect of a next impact on the item in operational use of the item.

10. The buffer of claim 9, configured for wireless communication with a user interface for enabling a user of the item to dynamically regulate the effect based on a user input.

11. The buffer of claim 9, configured to regulate the effect of the next impact under control of a sensor for sensing a value of a parameter representative of a previous impact in operational use of the item.

12. The buffer of claim 11, configured for wireless communication with the sensor.

13. The buffer of claim 11 accommodating the sensor.

14. The buffer of claim 9 configured for wireless communication with a user interface for enabling a user of the item to control the damping based on a user input during operational use of the buffer.

15. The buffer of claim 11, comprising: an air chamber; an air pump connected to the air chamber; a relief valve connected to the air chamber; a controller coupled to at least one of the pump and the valve for under control of the sensor controlling a setting of the pump and/or the valve.


The invention relates to wearware, here defined as including an item to be worn on or for covering part of the body of a person such as a shoe, a boot, or other footgear, a piece of clothing such as a pair of trousers, an overall, etc., protective gear such as a glove, etc., or to be engaged with the person's body, such as a saddle or a seat. The invention relates in particular, but not exclusively, to a sports shoe.

When running or jogging, the person's body is subjected to an impact every time the person's shoe hits the ground. The impact force depends on, among other things, the terrain surface conditions (e.g., concrete or cobblestones), running style, the runner's physical condition and the amount of buffering or damping provided by the shoe's sole. Impact forces during running can cause wear and serious injuries, especially of ankle or knee joints. Improving the damping of the impact forces has therefore received considerable attention. Some examples are discussed below.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,263,728, incorporated herein by reference, relates to a jogging shoe with an adjustable shock absorbing system for the heel impact surface in the form of an inflatable air chamber with downwardly extending pump-like pegs and the hollow cavity interiors in communication with the air chamber. When the jogging shoe impacts against the running surface, the pegs depress, compressing air contained in their cavities into the air chamber which distributes the impact force across the entire sole of the shoe. After the pegs depress, the air chamber can also partially compress to absorb the remainder of the force. Thus a two-step shock absorption and distribution system is provided. The shock absorbing system will need to be inflated to an initial pressure for use. Normally the initial pressure will be less than 30 pounds per square inch, depending on the weight of the person using the shoe. The shoe will then need to be used to determine if sufficient and comfortable shock absorption or shock distribution is attained. If necessary, the amount of pressure within the shock absorbing system can be adjusted through an air valve. The air valve communicates with the air chamber to permit adjustable inflation of the air chamber. Accordingly is provided a jogging shoe with enhanced shock absorbing or shock distributing characteristics for the impact receiving heel portion. A second feature of the shock absorbing system of the present invention is the air valve whereby air, or other compressible fluids, can be injected into the air chamber or removed therefrom, depending on the amount of shock absorption necessary under these circumstances. Thus, the weight of the jogger, the type of surface the jogger runs on, and to some extent, the jogger's style—that is the portion of the jogging shoe or the size of the area of the jogging shoe which contacts the running surface first for the particular jogger—can be accommodated.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,598,645, incorporated herein by reference, relates to a shoe sole having a sole plate with a ground-engaging side having inflatable tube elements secured thereto. The shoe sole also includes upstanding lateral support walls that define a chamber or an installation space, which is in communication with the tube elements by means of inflation openings. Also disposed in the installation space is a valve housing, a miniature pump, and connecting conduits connecting the pump to the inflation openings. The tube elements are provided along medial and lateral edges of the sole, and in the heel region. In addition, the tube elements are inflatable separately from each other so that it is possible to individually adjust the tread characteristics of a shoe provided with the shoe sole. The tube elements further include a longitudinal partition, which divides the interior thereof into two air chambers, which communicate with each other through at least one opening in the longitudinal partition. That provides improved tread characteristics and increased rigidity of the tube elements. The miniature piston pump is fixed in the heel region between the two holding plates. The pump includes a control device for a valve arrangement, which permits a communication between a respective one of the four pressure connections to the cylinder in the pump housing, so that the tube element portions and the tube elements can be individually inflated. The valve arrangement includes valves, which are associated with the individual pressure connections and which prevent escape of the air in the tube elements and which can also be specifically and deliberately actuated, in order possibly to let air out of the tube elements.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,553,691, incorporated herein by reference, relates to providing support to the foot of a shoe wearer by an air cushion that includes a support chamber surrounding a collapsible pump. The pump is operable by the foot of the wearer for directing compressed air into the support chamber and varying the firmness of the chamber. The support chamber is of a preformed three-dimensional configuration of sufficient rigidity to provide stable support to the foot prior to receiving compressed air from the pump. The user may adjust the pressure of compressed air within the support chamber to a desired level by operating a relief valve.

Accordingly, above examples show that shoes have been known, which provide adjustable impact-absorbing properties using an air pump, an air chamber and an air valve.

The invention addresses, among other things, the issue of the impact's variability over time while the person is running as a result of a change in the surface condition. It is one of the objects of the invention to provide adequate damping of such impacts even if their magnitude varies along the path that the person is traveling.

The invention also considers scenarios other than running or jogging, wherein it is desirable to provide adequate absorption, by means of an intermediate agent, of shocks on the human body that are varying in magnitude. Car drivers, truck drivers, motorcycle riders, bicyclists, people on horseback, speedboat people, etc., are also subjected to mechanical impact transmitted by their means of transportation during operational use. The magnitude and frequencies of the shocks depend on, e.g., speed, properties of the terrain or water surface, and the shock-absorbing quality of whatever sits between these persons' bodies and the surface over which their vehicle, craft or steed is traveling. For example, riding a motorcycle for a long time on back roads will leave the rider well aware of his/her bottom and of the palms of his/her hands as these body parts are functioning as shock absorbers too. Sturdy padded gloves and an ergonomic saddle will help the rider ride out the ordeal. Making the vehicle's suspension weaker is not the preferred solution. If the suspension is too weak, it not only adversely affects the roadholding quality, but also hampers the rider's (literally) seat-of-the-pants feeling for what the vehicle is about to do, thus interfering with user control. For completeness, an automatically adjustable suspension, called the “Adaptive Damping System”, has been known since 1991 on certain Mercedes-Benz automobiles. This system adjusts shock-absorber firmness several times per second at each wheel, to one of four settings, based on road surface and how the car is being driven.

The invention generically considers an item of wearware. The item comprises a buffer configured for enabling to dynamically regulate an effect of a next impact on the item in operational use of the item. The effect is regulated, e.g., for the purpose of controllably decreasing the effect or for controllably increasing the effect. The regulating is dynamic as it occurs in operational use. That is, the user does not need to stop for making adjustments as in the known items discussed above. In an embodiment of the invention, the buffer is configured for wireless communication with a user interface for enabling a user of the item to regulate the effect based on a user input. For example, the user may carry with him/her a device with a user interface that communicates via a radio-frequency (RF) link with the buffer so as to enable the user to regulate the effect during operational use of the item. In another embodiment, the buffer is configured to regulate, e.g., dampen, the effect of the next-impact under control of a sensor for sensing a value of a parameter representative of a previous impact in operational use of the item. In the case of providing the damping effect, the automatically and dynamically adjustable buffer enables to take into account the varying external conditions so as to best neutralize the impact. The sensor can be accommodated in the item itself, e.g., physically connected or integrated with the buffer. Alternatively, the sensor is a separate component not physically connected to the item and communicates wirelessly with a buffer.

In an embodiment of the invention the buffer comprises an air chamber; an air pump connected to the air chamber; a relief valve connected to the air chamber; a gauge coupled to the chamber for measuring a quantity representative of an air pressure in the chamber; and a controller coupled to at least one of the pump and the valve for under combined control of the sensor and the gauge controlling the air pressure. Preferably, the controller is (user-) programmable and/or is configured to process user input received from the user in operational use of the item, e.g., using the RF communication link mentioned above.

Accordingly, the invention provides dynamically and automatically adaptive footgear, gloves and other clothing, seats, saddles, grips for a bike's handle bar, etc., in order to harness the effect of an impact on the body of a person via the wearware.

The invention also relates to means of transportation provided with wearware for being engaged with the person's body in operational use. A specific embodiment of the invention relates to a sport-shoe.

The invention is explained in further detail, by way of example and with reference to the accompanying drawing wherein:

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of an item of wearware in the invention; and

FIGS. 2-4 are diagrams of specific embodiments of an item of wearware in the invention.

Throughout the figures, same reference numerals indicate similar or corresponding features.

As an example of application of the invention, consider a sport shoe. Sport shoes currently commercially available support the runner by means of controlling the damping or stiffness behavior of the shoe sole. Typically, this is achieved by squeezing air in the sole of the sport shoe to adjust the damping quality and stiffness of the shoe. One of these technologies relates the adjustment of the pressure of the air in a chamber integrated with the sole of the shoe depending on the contemplated needs of the user, i.e., determined in advance. See some of the examples above. For this to work, special equipment is needed, and therefore higher costs are involved. This kind of techniques is in general applied in special shoes such as those of in-line roller skates. Clearly, this is a one-time-only adjustment of the shoe that does not take into account changes during operational use such as relating to the user's physical condition, terrain conditions and running style. The impact force depends on the terrain condition (concrete, sand, cobble stones, snow, etc.), the user condition (weight, joint and muscle condition, shoe size, etc.), and the user running style (speed/acceleration, gait shape, foot landing etc.). Another known embodiment (see above) requires the setting of a relief valve to control the stiffness or damping quality of the shoe, again in advance.

In an embodiment of the invention the shoe behavior is improved by means of dynamically adapting the stiffness of the sole of the shoe based on continuous or periodic measurement of the relevant parameters. Depending on the measurements of the impact force during walking or running the shoe sole air-pressure is adapted to optimize the damping/stiffness of the sole. In this way the shoe is made to automatically adapt to variations of terrain, user condition, and running style.

An aspect of the invention is the adaptation of the shoe sole air-pressure in order to dynamically control or regulate the damping and stiffness of the shoe. This can be accomplished using a mechanism that carries out a method with following steps. In the sensor part the relevant parameters (e.g., impact forces) are measured. In the control part the air-pressure and/or its change per unit time is regulated on the fly based on the measurements. The result is the creation of a certain quality of damping and stiffness in the sole of the shoe.

An aspect of the current invention focuses in particular on the measuring of the impact forces during operational use (e.g., walking or running) and on the regulating of the air-pressure.

As indicated above a functionality of the adaptive shoe is to adjust the shoe sole damping/stiffness under control of measuring the impact forces. This functionality is implemented by a system that has for example the following parts: a measuring unit; a control unit, and an air-pressure unit, discussed in more detail below.

The measuring unit comprises a sensor that measures the impact forces when the shoe lands on the ground. The sensor is located, for example, in the heel of the shoe. The impact forces depend on, e.g., the specific terrain, user condition, and running style of that moment. The sensor can be passive or active using a separate power supply (e.g., a battery), or is, preferably, being powered by the impact forces themselves. The measurement of the impact forces at a previous step controls the desired damping/stiffness value of the sole for the next impact step.

Based on the measured impact force the air-pressure of the main chamber is adjusted. The adjustment is carried out preferably when the shoe departs from the ground. When the shoe is still on the ground the damping/stiffness of the sole is not adjusted by the control mechanism of the invention. The air pressure needed during the next impact with the ground has been determined during the previous step. But when the shoe departs, the air-pressure of the sole can be changed depending on the last impact force measurements. That new damping/stiffness value will be used during the next step or actually at the time that the foot is on ground during the next step. Again a passive way of controlling the air-pressure should be preferred. Using the forces involved during the time the foot contacts the ground the controlling unit is adjusted in such a way that during flying of the foot the air-pressure of the sole reaches the desired optimal value.

The air-pressure unit is the main chamber where the air-pressure, can be induced. Similar to the solutions that already exists in the sport shoe industry, in the sole an air chamber will be introduced. This main air chamber will communicate with the control unit in order to change its pressure when the foot is on fly and to keep its adjusted air-pressure during contact to the ground.

The following operational phases are identified. During the impact between shoe and the ground, the measuring unit measures the impact forces, e.g., its maximum. When the shoe is on the ground, the main chamber is not controlled and the control unit is prepared for the next control action. When the shoe departs, the main chamber's pressure is changed. When the shoe impacts with the ground next, the main chamber has been controllably set to dampen this next impact, ducting which the measuring unit measures new impact forces.

The system can be considered as a controlled system with sample time being the gait time. The compressibility of the trapped air is used to provide a certain damping. Alternatively, or in addition, damping is established by controlling the rate of releasing air from the chamber when absorbing the impact. During each gait the air pressure and/or its changes is controlled based on the measurements during the previous sample/gait.

The above is discussed in more detail as follows and with reference to the drawings. FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a system 100 in the invention to illustrate the various functionalities. System 100 comprises an item of wearware 102 with buffer 104 configured for enabling to dynamically regulate an effect of a next impact on item 102 in operational use of item 102. Buffer 104 comprises an air chamber 106 that serves as the actual absorber of an impact on item 102. Buffer 104 also comprises an air pump 108 for increasing the air pressure in chamber 106 and a relief valve 110 for decreasing the air pressure. Configurations of pump 108 are known, for example, from the prior art discussed above. Valve 110 and pump 108 are controllable as is discussed below and serve to regulate the air pressure and air pressure changes per unit time so as to control the shock absorbing characteristics of buffer 104. The magnitude of the change in air pressure per unit time during the impact determines, with other factors, how much energy is absorbed that is then not transmitted to the body of the user. Buffer 104 also has a gauge 112 coupled to chamber 106 for enabling to measure a quantity representative of the air pressure and changes therein. Buffer 102 further has a sensor 114 for sensing a value of a parameter representative of an impact on item 102 in operational use of item 102. Sensor 114 comprises, e.g., one or more accelerometers. A controller 116 is provided, e.g., a micro-controller, which is coupled to pump 108, valve 110, gauge 112 and sensor 114. Controller 116 controls pump 108 and valve 110 based on input from sensor 114 and gauge 112. Preferably, controller 116 regulates the effect of the next impact under control of sensor 114 sensing a value of a parameter representative of a previous impact in operational use of the item. This assumes that the intensities of a sequence of impacts vary gradually so that the order of magnitude of the intensity of the next impact is adequately predictable.

FIG. 1 shows an embodiment of the invention wherein pump 108 and valve 110 are separate components. In another embodiment (not shown) these are physically and/or functionally integrated with one another so as to form, e.g., a controllable two-way air pump.

FIG. 1 shows an embodiment of the invention, wherein sensor 114 is accommodated in buffer 104. In other embodiments (not shown) of the invention, sensor 114 is accommodated outside buffer 104 but within item 102, or outside item 102 altogether. For example, sensor 114 is worn on the body of the user of item 102 and communicates via RF with controller 116. As an alternative example, sensor 114 is a component of a remote sensing system (not shown) that determines the intensity of the impacts from a remote location relative to item 102 and communicates the measured intensity through an RF link to controller 116.

The embodiment of FIG. 1 further shows pump 108 and valve 110 both being controllable by controller 116. In another embodiment (not shown) one of pump 108 and valve 110 is controllable, the other one having then a fixed setting. For example, if pump 108 has a fixed setting, controller 116 controls valve 110 so as to enable air to escape in an amount controllable per impact.

The embodiment of FIG. 1 shows system 100 comprising gauge 112. Another embodiment (not shown) does not have such a gauge 112, and the response of buffer 104 to a next impact is automatically controlled by the input from sensor 114.

Power for controller 116 and from communicating the signals from gauge 112 and sensor 114 and to pump 108 and valve 110 is provided by, e.g., one or more small batteries (not shown). Power for operating pump 108 and/or valve 110 according to the settings determined by controller 116 is derived from, e.g., a small power supply such as a battery or from the impact itself. As for the latter, see the above prior art for further examples of a mechanically operated pump used in footgear.

Preferably, system 100 further comprises a user interface 118 that communicates wirelessly, e.g., via an RF link, with controller 116 of buffer 104. User interface 118 comprises, for example, a small device, handheld, worn as a wristwatch or as a tag on the user's shirt or jacket, etc., that enables the user to intervene in the automatic and dynamic adjustments of pump 108 and/or valve 110. User interface has, e.g., one or more keys or buttons through which the user can send an instruction or command to controller 116 to increase or decrease the response of buffer 104 to the next impact or impacts, relative to the automatically derived settings determined by gauge 112 and/or sensor 114. As an alternative, user interface 118 is voice controlled so that a result is obtained, similar to the one with the manually operated user interface, by way of voice commands such as “more” and “less”. Such a wireless embodiment of user interface 118 can be operated by a person other than the user of item 102 him/herself. For example, if the user is a competition runner he/she may want his/her trainer to control user interface 118 in order to determine the best setting of pump 108 and/or valve 110 depending on the trainer's monitoring of the runner's performance. Further, controller may communicate information about the output history from sensor 114 and the settings history of pump 108 and valve 110 to interface 118 or to another receiver, e.g., for analysis later on. The analysis within the context of the performance during practice may lead to programming or reprogramming controller 116 so as to fine-tune the control of buffer 104 during competition.

System 100 is shown to comprise a single air chamber 106, a single pump 108, and a single valve 110 with a single controller 116. Depending on the specific field of application of the invention, one could consider configurations with multiple chambers at multiple strategic locations in wearware 102. For example, consider a pair of trousers or an overall worn as a piece of riding gear by a motorcyclist. If the invention is integrated in the bottom of the riding gear that engages the motorcycle's saddle, multiple smaller chambers may be preferred over a single larger chamber, if only to have a reserve in case one chamber gets a leak. Moreover, individual areas of the user's body may need individually controllable impact buffering, e.g., when the impact on the contacting surface is not evenly distributed in space and/or in time. In this case, preferably multiple chambers are provided that can be individually controlled, either by a single controller 116 or by multiple controllers 116. Accordingly, the multiple ones of the each of the individual functionalities of FIG. 1 that, in combination, serve to buffer the impacts, can be spatially distributed in the wearware to best suit their purpose in this invention.

FIG. 2 is a diagram of an item of footgear 200, here a sport shoe for running or jogging, wherein the locations of various components are indicated with reference numerals corresponding to the functionalities discussed under FIG. 1. As is clear from the description above, a ski boot may require the components of system 100 to be accommodated in areas somewhat different from the ones shown in shoe 200 in order to take the specific impact loads into account that occur in downhill skiing. Similar considerations apply to, e.g., motocross boots or trekking boots.

FIG. 3 is a diagram of part of a leather motorcycle overall 300 seen on its backside. Overall 300 comprises an integrated support belt 302 between an upper part 304 and a lower part 306 with the legs. A bottom 308 of overall 300 engages with the motorcycle's saddle (not shown) in operational use of overall 300. In this embodiment, bottom 308 is provided with multiple air chambers 310, 312, 314 and 316 with similar functionality as discussed for chamber 106 under FIG. 1. Components 318, 320, 322 and 324 indicate the location of respective sensors, similar to sensor 114, respective pumps, similar to pump 108, and respective valves similar to valve 110. Controller 116 is located, e.g., in belt 302. User interface 118 is, for example, a portable unit that can be attached to, and detached from, the motorcycle's handlebars in a position wherein it can easily be controlled with a thumb switch.

FIG. 4 is a diagram showing part of a bicycle with a frame 402 on which is mounted a saddle 404. The cover of saddle 404 is provided with air chambers 406, 408 and 410 in certain areas. Preferably such a saddle 404 and cover are customized to take into account the specific build of the individual user so as to optimize the locations of chambers 406-410. In this example, there is a single sensor 114 that communicates in a wireless fashion (RF or IR) with controller 116 (not shown) accommodated underneath saddle 404, e.g., on a frame 412 of saddle 404. Air pumps (not shown) similar to pump 108 and valves (not shown) similar to valve 110 are likewise mounted underneath saddle 404 and are preferably operated mechanically using the gravitational energy of the user's body when reacting to the impacts transmitted via the bike's wheels (not shown) and frame 402. Note that when the impacts are adequately buffered, the user's body travels a shorter vertical distance between successive impacts and its gravitational energy available is lower than when the body is subjected to severe shocks.