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After A Failed Launch, Smart Shoe Benefits From A Reboot

When Hahna Alexander set out to create a shoe that could charge a battery, she had no idea what challenges lay ahead of her.

The inventing part went smoothly enough. Like many first-time inventors, she had a good idea and a passion for her work. She successfully invented a shoe that harnesses energy from each step the wearer takes. That energy can be used to charge a battery.

SolePower CEO Hahna Alexander speaks at the 8th Annual Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.
Monica Schipper / WireImage/Getty Images
WireImage/Getty Images
SolePower CEO Hahna Alexander speaks at the 8th Annual Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Alexander spent years developing the technology and even co-founded her own company called SolePower. But when she finally tested her prototype, she quickly discovered that people would rather just carry a backup battery than bother with a self-charging shoe.

It's fair to say she was disappointed.

But her failure challenged her to go back to the drawing board and come up with something that did more than charge a battery. She and her team invented a "smart shoe" that can track GPS location, step count and even temperature, and share that information on the Internet. All of the devices in the shoe are constantly powered by walking.

Alexander hopes that the shoes can help people who work in search and rescue, high-risk industry and the military. For example, in the case of an emergency the shoe can report the location of the wearer to people trying to help. It could even report the location of troops in battle.

"The failure taught us an important lesson," she says: "You have to invent something that people can't live without."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Madeline Sofia is the host of Short Wave — NPR's daily science podcast. Short Wave will bring a little science into your life, all in about 10 minutes. Sometimes it'll be a good story, a smart conversation, or a fun explainer, but it'll always be interesting and easy to understand. It's a break from the relentless news cycle, but you'll still come away with a better understanding of the world around you.
Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.
Meredith Rizzo is a visuals editor and art director on NPR's Science desk. She produces multimedia stories that illuminate science topics through visual reporting, animation, illustration, photography and video. In her time on the Science desk, she's reported from Hong Kong during the early days of the pandemic, photographed the experiences of the first patient to receive an experimental CRISPR treatment for sickle cell disease and covered post-wildfire issues from Australia to California. In 2021, she worked with a team on NPR's Joy Generator, a randomized ideas machine for ways to tap into positive emotions following a year of life in the pandemic. In 2019, she photographed, reported and produced another interactive visual guide exploring how the shape and size of many common grocery store plastics affect their recyclability.