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With these high-tech boots, the power is in your feet

By Erika Engle

LAST UPDATED: 02:26 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011

<br />The Zapps "Survivor" hiking boot will be equipped with, among other things, a high-intensity strobe light, sound beacons and an electronic fire-starter.<br />

Hearing anything described as being a "game changer" brings out the skeptic in reporters, but Hawaii island-based Zapps Global Inc. founder and inventor Paul Gerstenberger simply explains that he has invented electricity-generating footwear.

Zapps' "Survivor" hiking boot will come loaded with electronics including a satellite-based locator system, high-intensity strobe light, sound beacons and an electronic fire-starter. Yes, electric boots, just like in "Bennie and the Jets," by Elton John.

Oh, and since the boots generate electricity, wearers will be able to recharge their cellphones on the fly. And because not all hiking occurs in Hawaii, the boots also will have frostbite-preventing toe heaters.

Patents involving electricity and footwear date back to the 1800s, according to the Google patents portal. Gerstenberger has 28 significantly more recent patents relating to the footwear and technology therein.

"This was originally worked on in conjunction with DARPA (the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency), a super-secret ‘James Bond' agency," he said. The technology has "a lot of uses, but the bottom line is" that we are increasingly dependent upon "an awful lot of electronic equipment that runs out of battery power," often when in a remote area, hiking, running or walking.

That leaves hikers and other outdoorsy types with useless pieces of make-die-dead, unconnected connectivity, rendering them unable to call for help or send out a GPS signal to search-and-rescue crews.

Gerstenberger's footwear contains electret film, a high-tech film that generates electricity when it is compressed, so with "each step, you create electricity, and then beyond that we have patented 27 of the best applications for electronic technology — and we'll be working that number up to about 40," he said.

Search-and-rescue missions are undertaken for some 50,000 hikers in the U.S. each year, and the mobile phones they might have with them are only as good as their batteries, he said.

"While cellphones are very often carried by hikers, that doesn't mean that they always work," said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Terry Seelig. Batteries often fail, or service is not available in a hiker's location. First responders "need to have as much direct contact with the person in trouble as possible," to hasten the process of finding them, Seelig said.

The electric boots will be priced similarly to higher-end brands. Production should begin "within 90 days," with the boots in stores by March, Gerstenberger said.

The technology can be applied to other types of shoes as well — "certainly every other form of outdoor shoes," he said, such as running and walking shoes and footwear designed for the military and law enforcement agents.

The possibility of Christian Louboutin licensing the technology for his sky-high platform stilettos favored by, um, the well heeled is unlikely, "but you never know," Gerstenberger chuckled.

Reach Erika Engle at erika@staradvertiser.com.

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