Innovative technology to develop safe, comfortable footwear for active older people

A project that will use cutting-edge technology to develop safe and comfortable footwear for active older people has received a grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Dr Sharon Dixon and Professor James Brownjohn will use the brand new VSimulators facility at the University of Exeter to study "lower limb joint loading" in active older adults engaged in sport.

The pilot data will contribute to the design of a bespoke sports shoe.

The funding comes from UKRI's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing Catalyst Award.

The project is supported by commercial partner Cosyfeet, footwear specialist providers for older adults.

The Catalyst Awards support the exploration of new, innovative ideas with the opportunity to transform the physical, mental and social wellbeing of an aging global society.

In addition to a grant of up to £50,000, the award holders will receive a structured nine-month programme of support to accelerate ideas and work with researchers to maximize the reach and impact of their work.

This pilot study will be the first of many research and commercial programmes using the unique capability of Exeter's VSimulators facility to explore human movement and responses to the environment.

Dr Dixon's research aims to understand lower limb joint loading in older adults during sports participation.

Previously, such research could only take place in uncontrolled outdoor environments, or in gait analysis labs, offering limited results.

This research study will look in detail to understand and model the loads occurring between the shoe, the person and the surface.

This research will also be of interest to human movement scientists, engineers, bio-mechanists, footwear scientists, and public bodies such as the NHS.

VSimulators at the University of Exeter is a new 'super force plate' facility which is unique within the UK (and potentially the world).

It is an 8m x 8m chamber at the Engineering Research Centre at Exeter Science Park containing a custom designed 3.7m x 3.7m Octopod motion platform delivering movement in six directions.

This is topped with nine custom-made AMTI force plates, creating one giant force plate, to deliver a fully instrumented floor capable of comprehensive data capture and analysis.

Up to nine users can be simultaneously immersed into a virtual environment through VivePro headsets.

Motion capture capability enables the collection and compilation of data including the position of users, the force from the plates, movement measured by accelerometers and user reactions.

This is synchronised frame by frame and presented to the research team for analysis.

Dr Dixon said: "This exciting new facility presents a unique opportunity to obtain detailed and accurate data on the loading experienced by players performing complete sports movements, something that is an ongoing challenge in sports biomechanics.

"The focus on older sports participants will provide novel data to help us understand the footwear and playing environment requirements for the growing population of active older adults"

VSimulators is a unique facility providing a core hub for collaboration and inter-disciplinary research between academic communities and commercial partners.

This grant is a fantastic opportunity to explore an area for novel research which will lead to the innovation of new products for an ageing, active population."

Julie Lewis-Thompson, Commercial Manager for VSimulators

Andrew Pierce, Managing Director at CosyFeet, said: "Working with the research team from the University of Exeter is a very exciting project for Cosyfeet.

"Our brand focuses on providing supportive and comfortable footwear for people with swollen feet, who are most often the elderly.

"Many of our customers are still quite active and all would benefit from an active or more active lifestyle.

"This research project will support us in providing sports footwear in our range.

"This will enable our customers to participate in gentle sports, like walking, running or tennis, giving them the very best support, comfort and performance in such activities."

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