Scientists have developed a new space boot with built-in sensors and tiny “haptic” motors whose vibrations can help astronauts avoid the risk of tripping over obstacles. Falls in space can jeopardise astronauts’ missions and even their lives. If an astronaut trips over moon rocks, getting to his or her feet in a bulky, pressurised spacesuit can consume time and precious oxygen reserves. Falls also increase the risk that the suit will be punctured.
Since most falls happen because spacesuits limit astronauts’ ability to both see and feel the terrain around them, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the boot with built-in sensors to guide the wearer around or over obstacles.
“A lot of students in my lab are looking at this question of how you map wearable-sensor information to a visual display, or a tactile display, or an auditory display, in a way that can be understood by a non-expert in sensor technologies,” said Leia Stirling from MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.
“This initial pilot study allowed Alison [Gibson, a graduate student in AeroAstro and first author on the paper] to learn about how she could create a language for that mapping,” Stirling added.
The team presented a prototype of the boot recently at the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Toronto, Canada.
The work could also have applications in the design of navigation systems for the visually impaired. The development of such systems has been hampered by a lack of efficient and reliable means of communicating spatial information to users.