MIT is currently developing haptic-feedback shoes that will help the wearers avoid stumbles on the Earth and the Moon. The current spacesuits used by astronauts are both large and bulky, limiting motor control and visual peripherals. With a need for greater mobility, researchers from MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts are currently in the developmental stages of creating a high-tech space boot integrated with built in sensors and miniature “haptic” motors with the aim to give astronauts real-time interactive feedback and guide the wearer away from obstacles.
The pressurized suits not only hinder movement, but may also rupture if an astronaut falls or damages his suit in any way. That is where the boots come in, which will help the astronauts navigate and avoid potentially life threatening falls. However, the boot is not solely intended for interstellar use. The boots may also see applications in assistive wear to help the visual impaired navigate easier. The boots are lined with three motors strategically placed at the toe, heel, and toward the front of the foot. The intensity of the vibrations will indicate the severity of the object and urgency to alter a chosen path.
“Trying to provide people with more information about the environment — especially when not only vision but other sensory information, auditory as well as proprioception, is compromised — is a really good idea”. Says Shirley Rietdyk, a professor of health and kinesiology at Purdue University who studies the neurology and biomechanics of falls. “From my perspective, [this work could be useful] not only for astronauts but for firemen, who have well-documented issues interacting with their environment, and for people with compromised sensory systems, such as older adults and people with disease and disorders.”
The boots, in theory, look very promising but in real life, participants found it difficult to react to the haptic feedback in time. However, further development will surely increase the accuracy and practicality of these boots and we can be sure to seeing them in the market sooner rather than later.