A few years ago, scientists at Harvard University modeled on the structure of the snake skin to create a flexible robot that could catch the ground as it moved. Now they’re applying the same idea to shoe covers that help older people prevent falls. The sole, developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is made of thin, elastic steel plates with a serpentine pattern engraved on them. Like soft robots, the pattern — made up of dozens of interlaced “scales” — was developed on the basis of the Japanese paper-cut art “kirigami”.
When the soles are flat on the ground, the grip is also smooth. However, as the wearer moves forward, their center of gravity shifts from the heel to the toe, causing the soles and attached grips to bend. This, in turn, causes individual sharp scales to eject from the grip and touch the ground. The shoe covers are much lighter than the crutches used by many people, prevent slipping on icy sidewalks, and are said to be easier to wear and remove. But more importantly, they also outperform crutches when tested on ice.
“Falls are the leading cause of death in older adults and the second leading cause of occupational-related deaths,” said Giovanni Traverso, co-author of the study and an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If we can control and increase the friction between us and the ground, we can reduce the risk of such falls, which not only cost lives, but also cost billions of dollars a year in medical costs.” “
Scientists are now looking to work with companies that may be interested in commercializing the technology.