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Researchers developing prototype of diagnostic insole

Engineering professor Jalal Ahamed holds a sensor on his fingertip with a magnified image in the background of a high-density sensor array similar to what will be imbedded in insoles to measure gait.

Insoles embedded with tiny sensors may soon diagnose problems with the way you walk.

A team of UWindsor researchers is taking the first steps toward bringing this invention to market. Armed with provisional patents and a difficult-to-obtain, research and development grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), members hope to have a prototype ready for commercialization by this time next year.

“This is a unique project,” said Jalal Ahamed, a professor of mechanical, automotive, and materials engineering who brings his expertise in micro-scale sensors to the project. Other principal researchers are materials chemists Tricia Carmichael, who specializes in wearable electronics, and Simon Rondeau-Gagné, who has invented the flexible, self-healing polymer in which the sensors will be embedded.

“We are bringing together all these disciplines, which is what makes this project unique,” Dr. Ahamed said.

Assessing gait is something usually accomplished through an expensive, stationary device. Existing wearable insoles suffer from problems with flexibility, accuracy, and sensitivity.

Using an ultra-flexible, self-healing polymer will make the team’s insoles durable and allow the array of sensors to conform to the feet, offering three-dimensional mapping of gait. Ahamed said the insoles will also be Bluetooth capable, so they can send data wirelessly for interpretation or analysis.

The device will also be cheaper to manufacture than other sensing devices currently on the market, Dr. Rondeau-Gagné explained.

“These can be mass produced, requiring no specialized equipment or a special environment,” he said. “This is a versatile platform that can be applied to many other fields.”

The platform used for the sensor array can be adapted in the future for other wearables with health and fitness applications, said Dr. Carmichael.

NSERC has awarded the team a $125,000 grant through a funding program called I2I, short for Idea to Innovation. The objective of the national program is to accelerate the development of technology with potential for transfer to a new or established Canadian company. The grant requires applicants to conduct market analysis and gather letters of support from potential industry partners.

“The I2I program has a very rigorous set of criteria for success that evaluates technologies developed at university for transfer to Canadian industry”, said K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation.

“On behalf of the University, I would like to thank NSERC for funding this highly innovative project and team. This I2I funding is a testament not only to the commercial potential of this initiative, but also to the outstanding strengths of the researchers involved.”

—Sarah Sacheli