Sneakers track your every move

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MIAMI – A growing number of companies are developing Global Positioning System technology to track friends and family, using devices like watches and cell phones. But Miami entrepreneur Sayo Isaac Daniel says those systems are flawed.

You can forget to carry your phone, and you can forget to wear a watch, but you can’t leave the house and forget to put on your shoes.

Daniel has developed shoes embedded with GPS technology that can locate the wearer anywhere in the world. His design allows wearers to press a button hidden near the shoe’s lace to send a distress signal.

The shoes are called Quantum Satellite Technology by his company, Isaac Daniel, and are planned to hit stores in March at a price of $325 to $350. Daniel said he is in talks with a large department store chain, but he would not reveal details until the deal is finalized. A limited number of shoes are available at isaacdaniel.com and will be delivered in February.

The trend of using GPS technology to track people is in its infancy, but analysts say it is growing fast. It’s especially true for cell phone applications, since laws already require cell phones to have GPS-location technology for 911 services.

“The parameters are in place for it to really take off in 2007,” said Allan Keiter, CEO and founder of MyRatePlan.com, a company that tracks and compares cell phone plans. He’s one of many in the industry who have noticed a surge of consumer interest in using GPS as a safety feature for children. But he hasn’t heard of the technology being used in shoes before.

Daniel, chairman and chief executive of the company that bears his name, has been making shoes since 2000. He didn’t get involved with GPS technology until 2002, when he got a chilling call from an Atlanta school that his 8-year-old son was missing.

Working in New York at the time, Daniel immediately flew to Atlanta. By the time he arrived, his son had been found. But the lingering fear led to Daniel’s epiphany – he could use his shoes to locate people.

He focused his company’s resources to develop a device that could use GPS technology and be hidden and protected inside the bottom of a shoe.

The challenge for engineers was to contain the GPS technology in a 2-by-3-inch computer that can survive in a shoe. They came up with a device that is weatherproof, shockproof and can withstand the weight of a 300-pound person.

With all the focus on perfecting the technology, Daniel said the company has just started working on marketing and commercials, which are expected to air nationally in late January. And it’s not just sneakers he is marketing – the company has put the technology in other footwear and Daniel has plans to market to the military and emergency services. He says he’s already talked about that with entities from other countries, including Ecuador and Saudi Arabia.

His first line of shoes, which did not have GPS technology, sold best overseas where consumers were more open to buying sneakers without well-known brand names.

“People from Japan bought it, from Israel bought it,” Daniel said. “Germany was my No. 1 supplier at the time. In America, we only buy shoes that we see on TV.”

To lure younger buyers who may not care about the benefits of being found in an emergency, Daniel is developing ways to use the technology in the shoe for games. He is also designing ways to include cell phone technology. He said he expects the company to become profitable in two years.

But retail consultant Howard Davidowitz says it’s difficult to lure teens away from their favorite brands.

“What it takes is the right fashion,” said Davidowitz, chairman of national retail and consulting investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates. “The shoe has to look right to turn on the kid.”

Davidowitz says it’s a 100-to-1 shot, but if the shoe piques people’s interest, then there will be no price resistance.

GPS technology is already being marketed in wristwatches and is married with cell phone programs that let parents track children or allow friends to track each other.

Sprint is marketing GPS technology for people who want to track loved ones with its Sprint Family Locator, a cell phone feature that uses GPS to let parents know where their child’s phone is. A 2005 national consumer survey commissioned by Sprint found that 54 percent of consumers are interested in using GPS on a mobile phone to locate family members.

Boca Raton, Fla., company LOC-AID creates programs for cell phone GPS technology, and CEO Isaias Sudit, 38, said the growing interest he sees is in recreation. LOC-AID’s software has a scavenger-hunt program that can be played with friends with the same software on their phones.

It’s also targeting social networking, allowing users to, for example, find which bar friends are hanging out at on a Friday night.

What’s keeping the industry from growing faster is consumer’s privacy concerns.

“People are concerned about location and privacy, and I think they have to get more comfortable with that,” Sudit said.

“It’ll be six months to a year before that level of comfort is reached.”

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