As our population ages, technology can provide solutions to prolong seniors’ independent living. Like this chip that helps people with disabilities—or the elderly—to walk properly.
Mechanical feet put pressure on inventor Stacy Bamberg's smart insoles. Photo by Adam Finkle.
Walking upright is one of the basics of being human, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. A faulty gait can cause all kinds of health problems. And for an amputee with a prosthetic, it’s a difficult skill to regain.
Stacy Bamberg embraces the challenge.
An associate professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, she’s commercializing insoles for amputees through her own company Veristride with a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and two $40,000 grants from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
She says a sneaker’s forbidding interior is a challenging place to put sensitive equipment, but it didn’t stop her from innovating “smart” insoles to help amputees lose their limps.
“A shoe is a really hostile environment—it gets warm, it gets really humid,” she says. “In addition, most places you put sensors [are stationary], but here, the shoe is moving through space.”
Sensors inside the insoles collect info on how much pressure is being put on the foot as the wearer paces, gambols or sashays. Through a Bluetooth connection, that data is sent to a smartphone app to give the user immediate feedback on how to improve their stride.
Bamberg says the force in each step is what leads to medical consequences, but people are better at adjusting by time rather than by force. So, on the phone, the user hears a tone signaling how long each step should take.
“Our hypothesis is that if we give people feedback based on time, the force will follow,” she says. “Even with a big gait abnormality, like what might follow after an amputation, people can make pretty big changes quickly.”
Along with amputees, Bamberg wants to market the technology to runners to check their performance and to older adults to help prevent falls. “There are too many people out there who would like to be more active or change how they’re walking, but it’s just too hard to do on your own,” she says. “I would love to get it so you can just buy it in the drug store and put it in your shoe.”
This January, Bamberg is holding a research study for an updated version of the insole. This summer, she hopes to conduct a bigger study where users actually walk out with the insoles.