A new generation of "smart shoes" that offer athletes greater comfort and reduce the risk of injury are set to hit the market next year, delegates at a sports medicine conference in Perth have heard

The revolutionary sports shoes, featuring lightweight and protective materials, are likely to be unveiled in 2002, the country's leading sports podiatrist Simon Bartold, told the Australian Conference of Science and Medicine in Sport yesterday.

Foot wear experts have spent the past five years developing the performance-enhancing shoes that will protect athletes' feet from injury and general wear and tear, Mr Bartold said.

"There's no doubt what we are seeing developed in laboratories at the moment is revolutionary in terms of shoe design," he enthused. "Scientists are building a very minimalist shoe - a very light, very functional shoe that enhances natural foot movement and is extremely flexible.

"These shoes will give athletes a huge amount of information about the conditions they are running under and enhance their performance accordingly."

Mr Bartold added that  major sports shoe manufacturers had been reluctant to embrace the new technology because of their investment in signature brand sports shoes over the years.

The design technology in these shoes was now outdated, but companies had built substantial marketing strategies around them he said. "The companies don't want to or don't know how to change their message, and what they need is a whole new marketing strategy."