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August 28, 2020

Inspired by nature's inventions of claws and scales, this new tech could be a real "shoe-in"

Taking inspiration from claws and scales found in nature, a new, engineeed kirigami shoe sole technology could reduce slips and falls. A gripping tale from researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and MIT, with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Snip, slip, grip.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

The ancient Japanese art of Kirigami. Paper cutting. (Let me try.) (Sound effect: snipping rapidly) Kirigami artists create intricate three-dimensional objects from sheets of paper. (I just made confetti.) (Sound effect: hawk, nature sounds) With little help from nature, this age-old craft has become inspiration for all sorts of 21st century technologies. And now even shoe soles -- with grips that activate at just the right time to increase friction and reduce the chance of a slip and fall. For developers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and M.I.T., it's art meets nature meets tech.

The new dynamic sole design started with how nature gives certain creatures ability to increase friction when needed -- with things like scales or claws. The team realized they could take advantage of the way Kirigami buckles, to make spikes that pop up when needed. Next came legwork, testing designs, then prototypes with actual people walking on ice. (Sound effect: cartoon pratfall)

Compared to your trusty winter boots, the new add-on soles provided traction two to three times better. Although the first ones were made of stainless steel, the team is testing more common materials, and incorporating the soles into the footwear. Possible applications range from sports to industry to your everyday shoes.

We just couldn't let this one slip by.

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