Sometimes it seems like you can hear a song all the way in your toes. With these new sneakers, you actually can.
Meet the new EP 01 sneakers out of DropLabs. Yes, you read that right. We're talking about sneakers.
Invented by a man named Brock Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet.
It started when Seiler, who works in the music industry, was standing in a side room at a recording studio while a band was recording. He could feel every beat and low note in the song in his feet while standing over this particular patch of floor, and wanted to experience all music like that, as though he could feel the energy of the stage itself.
Eventually, Paley signed on as CEO of DropLabs and the EP 01 was born.
The EP 01 is a slightly chunky sneaker that's equipped with Bluetooth, a speaker-grade transducer and a power source to sync with almost any audio. As a movie or music or video game plays, the sneaker picks up the audio and sends it as a perfectly synced vibration right to the soles of your feet. For big, thunderous steps of a T-Rex in Jurassic World, the vibrations are heavy and full. For the pitter-patter of the townspeoples' footsteps in Red Dead: Redemption II, the vibrations are light and muted.
What's more, the vibrations are slightly directional. Noise that's coming from the right vibrates on the right, and vice versa, which can be particularly impactful while playing video games.
Indeed, Paley sees gaming as a huge opportunity to enter the market. Audio, and particularly good directional audio, is incredibly important for gamers who compete at a high level. The growth of esports has allowed a number of brands to emerge as the "X for gamers," not least of which being energy drinks.
DropLabs has an opportunity to market to gamers, offering a more immersive experience across their games and potentially even a competitive advantage.
Paley explained to TechCrunch that the brain actually functions at a higher level when three or more of the senses are engaged. Feeling something, alongside hearing and seeing it, flips a switch when it comes to processing information.
For this reason, Paley sees a huge potential to target gamers as an early demographic, particularly big-name streamers and gaming influencers.
In fact, DropLabs has given the shoes to various researchers and universities around the country to learn more about how these shoes might be used. After meeting with them, Paley believes there are applications that extend well beyond entertainment and into the health space.
I got a chance to try on the shoes and play around with them for a little while last week, and while I'd like to reserve my complete thoughts for a proper review, it goes without saying that wearing the shoes surely leaves an impression.
But the EP 01 have challenges ahead.
For one, the shoes cost upwards of $500. It's a mighty high price point for a gadget that most folks will need to try before they feel committed to buying.
"Whenever you create a new category and a new product, you have the challenge of asking consumers to change their behavior," said Paley. "And this, in particular, is so visceral. How do you communicate viscerally what is an emotional experience? You can talk about it, but it’s very different to put someone in the shoe."
The EP 01 must also find their place in a category that's defined by fashion and personal style. Our shoes say something about us, and for now, the EP 01 comes in one style and one color (black). It's as universal a shoe as it can be, considering all the electronics packed in there, but it doesn't leave customers many options to change up their own look.
Of course, DropLabs is deep in the learning phase, soaking up as much information about its first-gen sneaker as possible as it looks to iterate for v2.
The EP 01 is available for pre-order now, and DropLabs has plans to launch pop-up shops and other IRL experiences for folks interested in the shoes.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Brock Seiler as Ross Seiler. It has been corrected for accuracy.