Insole technology helping people put their best foot forward

A shoe insole using bionic technology to help people with nerve damage maintain their balance has been designed by University of Queensland researchers.

Dr Anna Hatton from UQ’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences said the technology was designed to help facilitate safe, active and independent living.

“One in six people will experience foot sensory loss due to numerous types of neuropathy and up to 65 per cent of people with this nerve damage will fall each year,” Dr Hatton said.

“Our new bionic technology called Augmented Vibrotexture is a hybrid design combining vibration and geometric texture into an insole, which provides stimuli to the soles of the feet.

“This provides feedback along major sensory nerves that carry signals about touch, vibration and position sense from the feet to the brain to help maintain balance.

“This is the first time a shoe insole has been developed with a hybrid design like this that provides two different types of sensory stimuli.”

The insoles are operated by a mobile app that tracks the user’s health and also allows remote health monitoring between patients and clinicians.

The unique invention was recently awarded the Major Category Prize in this year’s Bionics Challenge, receiving $50,000 in prize money and an eight-week mentoring program.

“The team is thrilled to have received this award,” Dr Hatton said.

“The funds will be used to help develop the technical insole design features, mobile app and test the final prototype.

“Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will be consulting with patients and key stakeholders in the design process and will use artificial intelligence to measure brain activity in response to the foot sensory experience.”

Dr Hatton’s team plans to develop a wide product range that will include insoles for people with neuropathy, those with balance issues due to other medical conditions and a product that targets general health and well-being.

The team is collaborating with academics, clinicians and industry partners in Queensland and New South Wales along with Walk With Path in Copenhagen and London to co-develop this novel bionic sensory insole technology.

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