MIT scientists develop space boots to prevent astronauts from tripping over

These smart shoes will help astronauts from tripping hazards

MIT researchers are developing a new space boot that uses built-in sensors and tiny haptic motors to help guide the wearer around obstacles by means of vibrations to keep future explorers on their feet. This will avoid astronauts from tripping on Moon or planets, because of low gravity.

The space boot is being developed by researchers at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.

Given the lack of gravity in space, watching videos of astronauts tripping over moon rocks seems like harmless entertainment. The spacesuit is the astronaut’s vehicle and life support when outside the spacecraft or habitat she says. Damage to the spacesuit can be life-threatening if severe. Even small amounts of damage to the suit can affect the ability of the astronaut to perform the operational tasks that are required.

The basic concept of the shoe is – The vibrations would buzz as sensors picked up an obstacle in proximity of the foot and warn the wearer of its direction and distance. The shoe is designed as such the motors are at the toe, heel, and the front of the outside of the foot.

“For this study, we used off-the-shelf haptic motors that were placed on the foot,” Stirling, who is one of several researchers at MIT’s AeroAstro department and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusettsnotes, notes “We are currently embedding these sensors in a shoe for our follow-on study. Our key outcome from the current work was understanding perception of different vibration signals so that we could create a language. By language we mean the mapping from a signal to a meaning.”

NASA is developing these shoes for the sake of astronauts, but there are many earth-based applications for this technology as well. This technology aims to augment an astronaut’s reduced vision and reduced sense of tactile feedback. There is a direct relationship to the needs of those with a vision impairment or for elderly adults.

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