Testing Issues and Considerations for Smart Shoes by TUV SUD

Testing Issues and Considerations for Smart Shoes by TUV SUD

Testing Issues and Considerations for Smart Shoes
Footwear has now joined the expanding list of apparel items and fashion accessories that are integrating wearable technologies. Whether used to track important health or exercise metrics or merely to change a shoe’s design or color, wearable technologies are rapidly transforming the footwear marketplace. However, for manufacturers of footwear products that incorporate wearable technologies, the compliance testing path can be considerably complex. In this article, we’ll review the various types of testing that may be applicable to Smart shoes, and offer some guidance to manufacturers on achieving compliance.

The Emergence of Smart Shoes
The global market for wearable technology devices is expected to grow at an annual compound rate of 35 percent over the next five years, from just 33 million units shipped in 2014 to nearly 150 million projected annual unit shipments by 2019.[1] While smart watches, fitness bands and smart eyewear capture much of the media’s attention, a growing wearables trend can also be seen in the footwear market, where a number of manufacturers are debuting shoes embedded with wearable technologies.

Some of the Smart shoes recently introduced include models that offer wearers the potential to measure health and fitness data, or that can provide the wearer with assistance in training and workout regimes. Others Smart shoes feature embedded technology that can provide visually impaired wearers with signals to guide them on pre-programmed walking and running routes.[2] And, wearable technologies have even been employed by one company to develop a shoe whose color and appearance can be instantly changed through a smart phone app.[3]

But, just in case footwear testing was not already complex enough, the integration of wearable technologies into shoes and footwear products adds a whole new set of complexities to the product testing and certification process. That’s because any product that includes electrical and electronic devices or components is subject to a host of additional regulatory compliance requirements intended to address further safety and performance considerations. As such, manufacturers of Smart shoes must think through their approach to product testing and certification, and be prepared to conduct additional testing as required.

Testing Applicable to Smart Shoes
Like all other shoes and footwear products, Smart shoes are potentially subject to a number of standard footwear tests to assess their safety and overall quality. Standard footwear testing includes:

  • Chemical testing—Chemical testing evaluates exposure risks to potentially harmful or irritating chemical substances. Most jurisdictions around the world require testing to determine the presence and/or levels of a number of chemicals, including lead in paint, coatings, finishes and substrate materials (applicable to children’s footwear), cadmium, phthalates, formaldehyde, and heavy metals. Some jurisdictions, such as the U.S. state of California, require testing for the presence and/or levels of additional chemicals.
  • Mechanical testing—Mechanical and physical testing helps to ensure the physical safety of the wearer, and typically includes testing for slip resistance, sole bond adhesion, heel attachment, heal impact and heal fatigue. Additional mechanical and physical testing and assessment may be required for footwear intended for use by children, such as testing for the presence of small parts and sharp parts and points.
  • Performance testing—Testing for quality and performance factors may be required to maintain brand standards or to meet customer procurement requirements. Quality and performance tests can include testing for functional seam strength, tear strength, shoe flexing and flexing resistance, abrasion and/or corrosion resistance, and color fastness quality under varying conditions.

In the case of Smart shoes, however, the presence of electronic and wireless communications technologies generally require footwear manufacturers to undertake a number of additional tests to protect users from potential safety hazards. Depending on the shoe’s configuration and intended use, additional assessments can include some or all of the following tests:

  • Electrical safety testing—Electrical safety testing helps ensure that the wearer is protected from the risk of electrical shock or burns related to the overheating of electrical or electronic components. In the case of Smart shoes, such testing may include insulation resistance testing, as well as high voltage and ground continuity testing.
  • EMI/EMC testing—Most jurisdictions require products containing electrical or electronic components to undergo a series of tests for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) with other devices in their immediate environment, and for their immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI). Other EMC tests applicable to Smart shoes could include immunity to electrostatic discharge (ESD).
  • Wireless testing—Smart shoes and other wearable technology devices often exchange information with computers and smart phones via wireless communications technologies, including Bluetooth and WiFi. Wireless testing is used to verify the speed, accuracy and integrity of this information exchange and other Smart shoes communications activities.
  • Specific absorption rate (SAR) testing—SAR testing evaluates the amount of electromagnetic energy generated by wireless devices that is absorbed as a result of close contact with the head or body. Because Smart shoes rely on wireless technologies and are worn on the body, they SAR regulations should be taken into account for these products.
  • Battery lifecycle testing—Wearable technologies depend on battery power to perform their promised functions. Battery lifecycle testing is used to verify how long a battery can be expected to last under anticipated use conditions. Such testing typically includes cycle life testing environmental cycle testing and calendar life testing
  • Mobile application testing—Software applications designed for use with Smart phones and other mobile devices are essential for the use and enjoyment of Smart shoes and other wearable technology devices. Depending on regulations in the intended target market, mobile applications testing can be utilized, including testing for functionality and usability, as well as data security.

Some Questions to Ask When Developing a Testing Plan
The sheer number of tests that can be applied to Smart shoes underscores the complexity in identifying the actual tests that may be required in specific situations. For manufacturers, answering the following questions may provide a useful starting place from which to develop an efficient and cost-effective testing plan appropriate to your specific Smart shoe product:

  • What are the intended target markets?—This is important since regulatory requirements can vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most often, a testing plan will be based on the regulations of the jurisdiction with the most rigorous requirements. But even this approach may not address all individual requirements across the board. A careful analysis and side-by-side comparison of applicable requirements in each jurisdiction can avoid surprises and save time and money.
  • Does your product incorporate a wireless module?—In some cases, wireless modules available on the market may have already been reviewed and approved by a responsible regulatory authority such as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Integrating a pre-approved wireless module can considerably reduce the burden of Smart shoe testing, and may even eliminate altogether the need for certain tests.
  • Is your Smart shoe available with accessories?—Hardware accessories sold with Smart shoes or provided as an available option, such as power cords, chargers and replacement battery modules, should also be evaluated for possible testing and certification requirements. Failing to account for any additional requirements in this area could result in last minute delays in gaining market access.
  • Have you addressed testing issues across the entire supply chain?—Supply chain partners are often responsible for testing the materials and components they supply. But, even in such cases, it may be advisable to audit compliance by using an independent third-party to conduct periodic, random retesting. Such retesting can support your claims of compliance and help you to avoid product recalls.
  • What are the testing requirements of your most important customers?—Finally, given the innovative nature of wearable technologies, your most important customers may impose additional testing requirements as a condition of their procurement agreements to ensure the safety and quality of the products they sell. These additional tests can be more easily integrated into an overall testing plan when they are identified as early as possible in the product design process.

Summary and Conclusions
Smart shoes are a promising addition to the ever-increasing lineup of wearable technologies. However, like other wearables, Smart shoes can be subject to a much wider variety of testing requirements to ensure compliance with applicable regulatory requirements. Manufacturers who are considering the introduction of new Smart shoes would be well-advised to fully explore and understand the various types of testing required in their target markets, and create a plan early in the design process that accounts for all of the required testing. An independent testing laboratory can be a helpful asset in identifying required testing and in developing an efficient and cost-effective testing plan.

Join FDRA & TUV SUD for a Footwear Webinar on Tips for Producing Safe Wearables for Footwear on Sept. 24 at 2p.m. Register Here!

Wearables Front Cover Image

[1] “The Wearables Report: Growth trends, consumer attitudes, and why smartwatches will dominate,” an article posted on the Business Insider website with excerpts from a 2014 report by BI Intelligence. Posted 21 May 2015. Available at http://www.businessinsider.com/the-wearable-computing-market-report-2014-10.

[2] See “These shoes are made for walking…and a lot more!” from the website of Wearable Technologies Magazine, 14 November 2014. Available at https://www.wearable-technologies.com/2014/11/these-shoes-are-made-for-walking-and-a-lot-more/.

[3] See “Volvorii Timeless Smart High Heel Shoe” at www.ishuu.com.