Important work published in Royal Society Open Science from our colleagues Chatzistergos and Chockalingham – The Pride of Staffordshire.
Imagine a non-electronic insole that could have a tunable threshold to detect changes in repetitive stresses. Here is a smart insole that’s smart by design!
Identifying areas in the sole of the foot which are routinely overloaded during daily living is extremely important for the management of the diabetic foot. This work showcases the feasibility of reliably detecting overloading using a low-cost non-electronic technique. This technique uses thin-wall structures that change their properties differently when they are repeatedly loaded above or below a tuneable threshold. Flexible hexagonal thin-wall structures were produced using three-dimensional printing, and their mechanical behaviour was assessed before and after repetitive loading at different magnitudes. These structures had an elastic mechanical behaviour until a critical pressure (Pcrit = 252 kPa ± 17 kPa) beyond which they buckled. Assessing changes in stiffness after simulated use enabled the accurate detection of whether a sample was loaded above or below Pcrit (sensitivity = 100%, specificity = 100%), with the overloaded samples becoming significantly softer. No specific Pcrit value was targeted in this study. However, finite-element modelling showed that Pcrit can be easily raised or lowered, through simple geometrical modifications, to become aligned with established thresholds for overloading (e.g. 200 kPa) or to assess overloading thresholds on a patient-specific basis. Although further research is needed, the results of this study indicate that clinically relevant overloading could indeed be reliably detected without the use of complex electronic in-shoe sensors.