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Hear the buzz about seniors’ sensor-laden shoes
Rice University students developing inserts to help elderly and others avoid falls
HOUSTON – (April 5, 2017) –Rice University bioengineering students are building a device that can help people who have impaired sensation in their feet stay upright and avoid falls.
The students expect what exists currently as a tangle of wires, sensors, circuits and motors will someday be a simple powered insole that can go into any shoe to provide additional tactile sensation to improve the wearer’s motor skills.
That sensory feedback could prevent a tumble. For many elderly and patients with diabetes who might have lost some ability to feel their extremities, that can be a lifesaver.
The team of Megan Kehoe, Yuqi Tang, Suzanne Wen, Daniel Zhang and Allen Hu, senior bioengineering majors working with faculty adviser Eric Richardson, accepted the challenge posed by Dr. Mehdi Razavi, director of electrophysiology clinical research at the Texas Heart Institute. Razavi asked students working on their required capstone projects at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen to find a way to help his patients maintain their balance.
The students, who call themselves “All the Feels,” solved the problem by dividing the foot into four zones. Under each they placed a sensor that measures the pressure on the foot, which is used to determine how much tactile sensation the user should feel. Above each sensor they placed a vibrating motor, not unlike that found inside a cellphone, 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.
“We’ve designed the system so it can be adjusted to the patient’s needs and degree of peripheral neuropathy,” Kehoe said.
“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 four motor-sensor combinations under each foot operate with complete independence and were placed based on the areas of the foot that are most important for balance control. “How you respond to the vibrations shouldn’t be a conscious decision,” Kehoe added. “Your nervous system should react instantaneously.”
The sensors and motors live for the moment in the middle of a one-size-fits-all sandal for testing, but the students expect that all the elements, including a custom circuit board and the power supply, can be miniaturized. That way, a user could move them between pairs of shoes.
The team will demonstrate its invention at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase April 13. More than 80 teams will vie for cash prizes at the annual event, which will be open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse on the Rice campus.
See the team’s web page at http://oedk.rice.edu/Sys/PublicProfile/34396698/4029765
Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews
Produced by Brandon Martin/Rice University
Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen: http://oedk.rice.edu
George R. Brown School of Engineering: https://engineering.rice.edu
Images for download:
Rice University engineering student Yuqi Tang models a prototype sandal that includes a set of sensors and motors intended to help the wearer stay balanced. The prototype was built as a senior capstone design project at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Rice University engineering student Suzanne Wen constructs a piece of sensor-laden shoe intended to help the elderly and people with impaired sensation in their feet avoid falls. The project is a capstone design required of most Rice engineering students. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Four strategically placed sensors were built into the sole of a prototype shoe created by Rice University engineering students. The sensory feedback device is intended to prevent falls in people with impaired sensation in their feet. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Rice University engineering student Allen Hu works on the sensory feedback device to help the elderly and others with impaired sensation in their feet avoid falls. They hope their invention can be turned into a self-contained, battery-powered insert that can be used in any shoe. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Rice University engineering students developed a sensor system that can help the elderly and those with impaired sensation in their feet avoid falls. From left: Daniel Zhang, Suzanne Wen, Yuqi Tang, Megan Kehoe and Allen Hu. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,879 undergraduates and 2,861 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for happiest students and for lots of race/class interaction by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.