This non-slip coating material for shoes could help prevent falls on slippery surfaces

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   Thandi Ferris | Posted on June 13, 2020

Image source: Pixabay

A team of engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has designed a non-slip, coating material for shoes to provide a secure grip on slippery surfaces. The researchers gained inspiration from the claws and scales of animals in nature. They created the design using a type of origami, which is a Japanese art form.   

They hope to help eliminate falls and further impediments on ice and other surfaces, particularly among the elderly. The research was recently published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.  

A news release from MIT details that persons wearing shoes with the coating material designed by the researchers had more grip and felt more friction when walking on ice, compared to persons with uncoated shoes. 

The coating was designed by incorporating kirigami, a type of the Japanese art form, origami, which entails the cutting of detailed shapes into sheets of paper and folding them into three-dimensional (3D) shapes.   

The team used this technique to design a sheet of plastic or metal with varying patterns of spikes. These spikes are then fixed to the sole of a shoe. The spikes remain flat when standing. However, when individuals walk, the spikes pop out, providing extra grip with every step.   

“The novelty of this type of surface is that we have a shape transition from a 2D flat surface to a 3D geometry with needles that come out,” Sahab Babaee, one of the authors of the research reported. “You can use those elements to control friction because the sharp needles can pop in and out based on the stretch you apply.”  

The team developed an array of designs of spiked patterns, such as square-shaped spikes, triangular-shaped spikes, or curved spikes. Each pattern of the spikes designed was tested using several sizes and arrangements and was constructed from different materials, namely plastic sheets and stainless steel.   

Inspired by art | Credit: MIT

According to the article, the team of engineers measured how stiff the spikes were when stretched and the angle at which they popped out. They also tested each design on different surfaces, which included hardwood, ice, and vinyl. It was determined that all the designs produced increased friction. However, the pattern of concaved curve spikes yielded the best results.  

Human volunteers were then incorporated into the study, and the different types of shoes coated with the concaved curved spikes were tested.  

The force exerted by the test subjects when wearing the coated shoes was measured with an instrument called a force plate. This instrument was covered with an inch-thick layer of ice. The researchers found that shoes coated with kirigami produced 20 to 35 percent more friction when compared to shoes without the coating.  

The MIT research team is now developing how to integrate the kirigami coatings onto the soles of shoes. They are debating whether to create an attachment piece which can be applied when necessary, or to create shoes with the coating already incorporated in them. 

The design was created to eliminate the risk of slips on ice, particularly among the elderly, with hopes to reduce complications and deaths that arise due to dangerous falls. Nevertheless, the team believes that these non-slip shoe coatings could be used in other possibly hazardous environments such as wet or oily surfaces. 

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Thandi Ferris

Thandi is an aspiring clinical scientist from Antigua and Barbuda. She attended the Antigua Girls’ High School, Antigua State College, then the University of the West Indies, Mona, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Management Studies. She enjoys going to the beach, practicing yoga, reading, and cooking. She is also an ambassador for a local non-profit organization, Her Shine Theory, which is dedicated to empowering young women, and she is a huge advocate for women in STEM. Her love for STEM, especially science, sparked during high school thanks to her uncle, who tutored her and connected the dots between the classroom and everyday life. She believes that everyone should appreciate the beauty of science and hopes to share her passion across the region.

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