Update: Happy April Fools’ Day! Unfortunately, we’ll still have to self-navigate around MIT campus. Hold off on those walking p-sets (at least for now)!
Inspired by autonomous vehicle research, MIT scientists have created a device that transforms traditional footwear into self-stepping shoes.
The smart device, an algorithm-based sensory attachment that connects to any footwear insole, uses high-precision radar and real-time GPS to automatically avoid obstacles and hazards in a walker’s path, especially oncoming pedestrians.
The 2×2″ device, called Toe the Line™, was developed by researchers in MIT’s STrIDE (Self Treading Insole Design Experiment) group, led by principal investigator Merry Andrew-Apriori. The multidisciplinary group also includes researchers in wearable technology fields.
“Modes of transportation are evolving rapidly,” Andrew-Apriori says. “Compared to self-driving cars and aerial drones, modern perambulation is downright archaic.”
Toe the Line’s technology uses a piezoelectric sensor to generate a continuous electric charge to operate the device. The STrIDE teams’ patent-pending plimsoll actuator utilizes the device’s microprocessor to control the shoe’s physical movement.
“Toe the Line’s inertial navigation detects potential collisions similar to the way a self-driving car might detect oncoming traffic.” Andrew-Apriori says. “The only difference is that our research is customized for bipedal transit.”
Andrew-Apriori created Toe the Line after a marked uptick in walking collisions between MIT students led to an increase in damaged smart phones, costing many students an average of nearly $300 per semester on replacement phone screens.
“The modern pedestrian no longer has time to focus while walking—especially an MIT student,” Andrew-Apriori says. “Their time is too valuable. Our goal is to move the focus from navigation to more important issues like p-sets, the perfect selfie, and real-time updates on any number of Kardashians.”
Andrew-Apriori believes that Toe the Line will eventually have practical implications that extend beyond salvaged cell phones, including customized walking tours around MIT campus, a good luck option that avoids ladders and cracked sidewalks, and an anti-microbial feature that avoids animal waste.
“Toe the Line not only allows students to focus more on coursework as they walk to class,” she says, “but it can also avoid bacterial hazards that could lead to illness, infection, or foul smells.”
The Toe the Line device is not yet commercially available. But the STrIDE group anticipates large-scale production beginning on or around April 1, 2018.