Adidas Trots Out Computerized Running Shoe

In the $5 billion business of running, the race goes not to the swift; it goes to the company with the coolest sneakers.

Adidas has the newest entry, just out this month.

"The Adidas 1 is the world's first intelligent shoe," said Eric Liedtke, director of consumer marketing for Adidas. "It's the one shoe for everyone."

Well, maybe not everyone: It costs $250 in a market where the average customer spends $35. Adidas says people will notice it because of its battery-powered computer. It is designed to adjust the cushioning in the shoe.

But for the company, based in Portland, there's really a lot more going on than that.

"The sneaker is basically the signature item for a lot of the athletic brands, said Marshal Cohen, a chief industry analyst for The NPD Group. "And if they can develop a footwear item that is technically advanced and can do more for the consumer, it has overarching opportunities to really propel the brand."

'Science Fiction'

As you run, a sensing mechanism in the shoe's heel tells the shoe how hard you're landing with every step. That sends a signal to a small microprocessor elsewhere in the shoe, which tells a small motor to make the heel harder or softer.

"The ability to make an adaptable shoe, something that could change itself, has been science fiction," said Christian DiBenedetto, an Adidas engineer. "It's been the dream of the future and we wanted to make that science fiction become a reality."

DiBenedetto and his fellow engineer, Mark Oleson, spent three years working in complete secrecy to design the Adidas 1.

"I wasn't able to tell my mom, my family," Oleson said. "So finally when this has come out into the media, it was kind of nice to say, 'Hey, you see, I do have a job.' "

"All of our business cards changed; we were no longer intelligence products," DiBenedetto added. "We were just team leaders or engineers or whatever our role was within the team."

Aura

With an edgy ad campaign, Adidas is trying to gain on the industry giant, Nike.

And even if people pass on the Adidas 1, perhaps its aura will spread to the company's cheaper shoes. Market research says only 24 percent of the people who buy running shoes actually run in them. So a high-tech sneaker is as much about marketing as mileage.

"The product may not really make you run faster or jump higher," Cohen said. "But what it really is, is about making you feel good."

ABC News correspondent Ned Potter and producer Suzanne Yeo initially reported this story for "World News Tonight" on March 19, 2005.

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