April 10, 2017

Rice Students Design Shoe Insole to Prevent Falls

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Students at Rice University are building a powered shoe insole to help people who have impaired sensation in their feet, such as diabetes-related peripheral neuropathy maintain their balance. After its completion, the students expect the insole to provide additional tactile sensation to improve the wearer’s motor skills, thereby reducing falls.

The team of senior bioengineering majors, Megan Kehoe, Yuqi Tang, Suzanne Wen, Daniel Zhang, and Allen Hu, are working with faculty adviser Eric Richardson, PhD. They placed a sensor under each of four zones of the foot to measure pressure, which is used to determine how much tactile sensation the user should feel. Above each sensor, the team placed a vibrating motor to provide additional sensation to the wearer. They hope wearers will eventually learn to process the feedback unconsciously and adjust their strides automatically to navigate stairs or uneven terrain. The four motor-sensor combinations under each foot operate independently and were placed based on the areas of the foot that are most important for balance control.

“You’ll feel exactly where you’re applying pressure,” Wen said. “The amount of vibration is proportional to the amount of pressure: If you apply a lot, you’ll feel a lot; if you apply just a little pressure, you get just a little vibration.”

The device is being tested in a one-size-fits-all sandal, but the students expect that all the elements, including a custom circuit board and the power supply, can be miniaturized so the user could move them between pairs of shoes.

The team, named All the Feels, created the insole as a senior capstone design project after accepting a challenge posed by a physician to help his patients maintain their balance. They will demonstrate the insert at the Rice University George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase April 13.

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Rice University.

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