There may not be many people interested in the precise measurement of all the forces and movements that are at play as someone walks, but for those few, a new tool has been developed to help them carry out their research - ForceShoes. Developed by researchers at the University of Twente's MIRA research institute in The Netherlands, these modest-looking sandals feature high-tech data-gathering electronics.
ForceShoes were developed as a means of facilitating the rehabilitation process of people who had suffered a stroke, and had a degree of paralysis on one side of the body. Those patients sometimes even have to learn how to walk again. During the rehabilitation process, it is often crucial to analyze what precise movements are being made as the patient walks, or what forces are being exerted on the ground. ForceShoes are reportedly a great help, especially given that they can be used outside a sophisticated lab environment.
Perhaps ForceShoes don't look very fashionable, but that's definitely not their purpose. The Dutch researchers located four sensor modules throughout the shoe sole. Each of the modules consists of a range of electronics that measures the wearer's force and movements. A wireless connection enables an automated transmission of the gathered data.
The sandals are not a fully commercial product yet, but researchers from the University of Twente believe there is potential for applications other than medicine. For example, SmartShoes could be used in the area of ergonomics. "You can use the shoe to form an objective impression of the physical burden placed on people in their work situation. This is something that insurance companies are very interested in", says Prof. Peter Veltink, who leads the research group behind the device. Other possible applications include analyzing performances of top-level athletes or other sportsmen.
The university is now working closely on product development with its spin-off company Xsens. Technology evaluation kits are now available, but so far for research purposes only.