MIT researchers created a shoe coating to help prevent falls

Most people who live in a part of the world with icy winter conditions know the risks that slippery ice raises. Falls are a very common form of injury in icy winter weather, but MIT has a new coating that can be applied to shoes that could improve traction on slick surfaces. The coating was inspired by the Japanese art of paper cutting and is designed to boost friction and could give shoes a stronger grip on ice and other slippery surfaces.The breakthrough is based on the Japanese art of kirigami, which is a variation of origami that involves cutting paper and folding it. In laboratory testing, people wearing shoes coated with the material were able to generate more friction than uncoated shoes when walking on icy surfaces. Scientists say incorporating this coating in the shoes can help prevent dangerous falls on ice and other hazard surfaces, particularly among the elderly.

The research team applied the kirigami-inspired coating to shoes by cutting intricate patterns of spikes into the sheet of plastic or metal. The sheets were applied to the soul of a shoe and remain flat while the wearer is standing still. However, the spikes pop out during the natural movement of walking.

During the research, the team created and tested several different designs, including repeated patterns of spikes that were shaped like squares, triangles, or curves. Each shape was also tested in different sizes and arrangements with the shapes cut into both plastic sheets and stainless steel. The friction generated on a variety of surfaces was measured, including ice, wood, vinyl flooring, and artificial turf.

Researchers found that all designs boosted friction with the best results produced by a pattern of concave curves. The team found that shoes with the coating attached generated between 20 and 35% more friction than the shoes alone. The team is currently looking at potential routes to commercialize the system.