Robo-sandals: National charity unveils GPS-guided footwear for birdwatchers

01 Apr 2014 | No. 2014-19

Did you see this story yesterday (1st April 2014). It was of course an April Fool's joke - even though a few of you seemed to fall for it!

The UK’s leading bird research organisation, The British Trust for Ornithology has today unveiled remarkable new developments in the fusion zone between fashion and technology which could revolutionalise bird monitoring across the globe.  In an extraordinary move, the charity has unveiled plans to produce a range of GPS-guided footwear which will draw on the Trust's enormous database of bird sightings to guide wearers to rare birds. Not only will the footwear automatically guide the wearer to the precise location of interesting birds but electrical pulses delivered to the soles of the feet will be able to set the speed of walking or running depending on the rarity status of the bird.

One of the range of GPS-guided footwear

According to Dr Ieuan Evans, head of the charity’s Fashion in Birders Unit (FIBU), the charity has used cutting edge science to combine climate change modelling with footwear consumer data to produce abundance change and range expansion forecasts across a range of footwear types. “Our latest science research shows a strong trend towards greatly increased sandal usage spreading from the south-east into the north-west over the course of the next 5-10 years. This data, combined with the rise of 'geek chic' allows us to focus first on sandals with further developments aimed at wellies, crocs and eventually all footwear models. What’s even more exciting is that future-gazing has suggested we might take this a step further with GPS input seamlessly combined with stimulation arrays embedded into macks and cagoules which would ensure the wearer lifts their binoculars to the correct position in order to see the birds located by the sandals.”

With a view to maximising the productivity of their automaton wearers, the sandals go one step further...the processor interfaces with the user's smartphone app to detect whether sightings have been entered in to the national bird recording platform, BirdTrack. Following an initial five minute grace period, a series of electric shocks, of gradually increasing voltage, are delivered to the wearer's feet. After 15 minutes, these shocks are sufficient to render the birdwatcher completely immobile, until such a time as they enter their bird records.

Dr Evans explained that work within FIBU focuses on improving the efficiency of individual birdwatchers so that they can contribute higher quality and a greater volume of bird monitoring data. “Our goal is to deliver an enhanced experience for birders while also allowing them to model the very latest fashion trends and we are working with top fashion designers to achieve this.” He cautioned that the new sandal technology would not work with socks but that given the demand from sock-loving sandal wearers this would continue to be a high priority for research. He also warned that in the highly competitive world of twitching, hackers might attempt to pimp their sandals to ensure they beat others to particularly rare birds, or that they would attempt to hack into the interfaces of other wearers to divert them away from particularly interesting birds.

BTO hopes to launch the new fashion range within the next 12 months.

Notes for Editors

1. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Dr Ieuan Evans
(BTO Head of FIBU)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: ieuan.evans [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2014-19

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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