#TechTuesday: Graphene foams for pressure sensing insoles
Graphene is making great strides in smart footwear. Graphene Flagship partners have developed 3D printed insoles with embedded graphene sensors to monitor and enhance an athlete’s performance.
Remaining in shape is no longer just an objective and a commitment, but a passion capable of going far beyond the simple why, embracing many other areas.
In 2017, total revenues of the health and fitness market surpassed 26 billion euros, making Europe the world’s most important market in this sector. This trend showed no signs of slowing down until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. As the pandemic compelled governments to enforce multiple lockdown periods for fitness clubs, gym memberships alone dropped by approximately 10 million members, from 64.8 in 2019 to 54.8 million by the end of 2020. Now, the latest research reveals a running boom – more than a quarter of joggers took up the sport during the pandemic, and have continued their newfound passion since.
Wearable technology and smart footwear are not a new phenomenon. Pressure sensing insoles have long been used to monitor a runner’s gait and other health-related aspects, but traditional sole inserts are typically bulky and rigid. In a bid to improve their performance and functionality, product developers and designers are utilising advanced materials, such as graphene and related materials.
Graphene Flagship researchers at the University of Cambridge are using graphene-embedded foam to produce insoles that can track the pressure distribution across the foot for sports analysis and podiatry. Conforming to the contours of the foot, the flexible foam enables response to variations in pressure with milligram level precision. Going one step further, this graphene sensing insole produces qualitive data which can be monitored in real-time, all within a smartphone app.
As showcased with an interactive prototype at 2019’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, whereby users could control a snowboarding avatar on a screen, these graphene-embedded foam insoles offer easy insertion and removal, and allow for integration into any type of shoe, making them highly accessible for a range of activities.
For professional sportsperson and athletes, accurate and continuous monitoring is essential. Graphene-enabled smart shoes allow detailed performance monitoring, which can detect biomechanical abnormalities in their gait cycle, helping to improve technique and avoid injury.
We have come a long way since the early examples of pedometers for counting steps. The wearable technology market for health and fitness is in high demand, but it relies on new materials to help drive development and innovation, and graphene is running at the forefront of this progressive sector.