Lowjack your sock drawer

New system uses RFID tech to keep track of your socks

Each individual sock comes with an RFID chip attached to the cuff. Stored on that chip is the sock's unique ID number. The Smarter Socks system also includes an RFID scanner, and a free iPhone app.

After a load of the socks have been washed, the user (or their maid, perhaps) scans the chip on each sock. The scanner sends the data by Bluetooth to the iPhone, which is running the app. That app proceeds to tell the user how old the sock is, whether it's for the left or right foot, how many times it's been washed, and which sock is its partner. Once its partner is located and scanned, the app updates the number of washings for the pair.

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21 Responses:

  1. bode says:

    Am I the only one amused by the fact that a guy named Coxworth writes for giz mag?

  2. C says:

    Take my money! All of it!

  3. Eric TF Bat says:

    There is no idea I could possibly come up with that would have less right to succeed than this. I feel therefore deeply personally validated as a computer programmer. The world is my oyster!

  4. James says:

    "whether it's for the left or right foot"

    Excuse me, but are these people in the same universe?

    • Nick Lamb says:

      It's a workaround. Suppose you refuse to believe in the Axiom of Choice. Well, now you have a problem, how will you choose one sock from a pair? Without such an axiom there is no mathematically sound way to choose a single member from identical pairs. But you can fix this by insisting that there are right and left socks, whereupon you don't need the Axiom of Choice to choose a sock any more, just as you don't need it for shoes.

      Of course this only matters if you have countably infinite socks, for us mere mortals with just one sock drawer it's fine anyway, but then none of us was thinking of getting an iPhone app to manage our socks, right?

      More seriously, you can reduce the chance of a fungal infection from one foot making it to the other foot by ensuring you don't swap socks from one foot to the other. Since treatment for fungal infections often takes months it would be pretty annoying if you treated one foot and then discovered that meanwhile the fungus has infected the other one.

      • Landa says:

        You could maybe also try to wash them. ;)

        • Nick Lamb says:

          While compulsively washing your socks every time you take them off (swimming, sports, trip to the beach...) is maybe not quite so crazy as uniquely RFID tagging and cataloguing them with your iPhone I think it's up there. I suggest "this one weird old trick" instead, stuffing the sock inside the associated shoe (or boot, etc.) which you will presumably be taking off at much the same time and for the same reason.

          However even as I write this I realise that such advice can rapidly become dated, like advising people to carry small change for using payphones, or suggestions to choose "web safe colours". Who knows, maybe RFID tagged socks will one day seem as normal as ring pulls that stay fastened to the can after opening and this post will be cited by kids as evidence that "old people" didn't understand technology.

  5. Will says:

    I think it's really frustrating that the the iPhone 5 has no NFC support, forcing us to buy expensive peripherals to sort our socks.

    • Lun Esex says:

      That just makes me think of putting one NFC-enabled phone into each sock before throwing them in the wash, since a phone with NFC support is more akin to an RFID chip than a reader.

      (Bringing up "NFC" in a comment: Heir to the nerd buzzword mantle of "Beowulf cluster.")

      • Nick Lamb says:

        Nah, NFC phones aren't like tags, they're powered like readers. Any two powered NFC peers could potentially communicate while obviously an unpowered device (like an RFID tag) is inert until a powered device interrogates it.

        You can get a NFC demo app for Android that interrogates objects you encounter. Most objects are very, very dumb or heavily encrypted but a few have human readable information squirrelled away.

  6. Joe says:

    Great, now RFID snoops will know how dirty your socks are.

  7. Brian B says:

    I misunderstood; I thought this would help you find missing socks. I like my idea better.

  8. MattyJ says:

    I'm desperately searching the internet in the hopes of finding out that this is some sort of elaborate hoax. After finding their website and spending some quality time with it, I'm even more confused. There's some comedy gold there, yet something about it still seems legitimate:


    "How would you like to get all the socks you need for a year at once?"

    • chris t says:

      I assure you it's more real than you can imagine. I found out about them through Neil Gaiman, who was a user at one point, and may still be. (Looks like he posted about them in 2005, which means they're not only real, they're, like, well-established.)

      I have never bought socks from them.

    • volk007 says:

      I'm buying (non-rfid'ed) socks from them. It's a major pain to replace socks - once you find the ones that are comfortable, you can never buy the same model or color. These guys are constant, I just buy periodically in bulk the same model/color.

  9. JonBro says:

    The military applications are obvious.

  10. DaveL says:

    The military applications are obvious.

    Weaponized socks mandate the "grim meathook future" tag.

  11. A similar but more general system was one of the inventions in Cory Doctorow's "Makers". Every object you owned got an RFID bug, and your storage spaces kept track of what was inside them.

  12. juliansr says:

    No toe-hole continuity sensors, not dice.

    How is someone this sophisticated yet helpless supposed to tell on their own?

  13. You know, I generally hate the "First World Problems" meme, and yet...

  14. Angry Dan says:

    I wish to invest. How many shares can I get in exchange for my bonsai kittens?