Four researchers at the University of the West of England’s Unconventional Computing Laboratory have recruited fungi to measure how they walk.
Usually, people try to prevent the fungus from making a home in their shoes, and may resort to antifungal sprays, ointments, or the like to prevent the fungus from taking hold and to ensure stinky feet.
But Anna Nicolaido, Neil Philipsa, Michele Antisthenes Tsumpanasa, and Andrew Adamatskia argue that the fungi inside the sole of shoes offer advantages over what is present.”smart slipperswhich are based on force sensitive resistors based on semiconductors.
“Biological materials, such as compounds associated with mycelium, offer a promising alternative to traditional smart insoles,” the researchers stated in their paper,Interactive fungal slippers” [PDF] Distributed via ArXiv.
“They demonstrate sensing and response capabilities without requiring additional space (for supporting infrastructure) and external inputs (such as electrical energy sources) to operate, using their bio-photoelectric activity. Innate sensors offer greater biodegradability, are self-sustaining as much as they can-grow, self-repair and assemble. Self-cultivation, they are abundant and offer low-tech cultivation on site.”
What’s more, they say, Fungi has low capital requirements for companies looking to build hardware and can be scaled up to allow custom insole production.
As if to prove it, the cows bought their mycelium – 200 grams of oyster mushroom bean spawn (sterile grain grown with mycelium, the structure of the mushroom root) – from Ann Miller’s Specialty Mushroom Ltd In the UK for a few pounds.
The fungal initiator was added to a multi-layer, absorbent, capillary-effect mat made of non-toxic wool and acrylic fibres, sprayed with deionized water, and placed on bedding to grow. After about three weeks in a dark, humid environment, the fungal soles were ready.
Fitted in a custom robotic platform designed to simulate walking, the insoles were evaluated for their ability to register weight and distribute the load. Previous work demonstrated that fungal colonies exhibit an electrical response when exposed to weight. This particular project aims to assess the feasibility of innate insoles for real-time measurements of posture, gait, and activity.
The fungi came.
“Electrical activity (the spike) was recorded in mycelium-bound compounds manufactured in the soles,” the paper says. “The number and frequency of electrical ripples changes when fungi are subjected to pressure loading.”
“We have shown that it may be possible to discern loading from the electrical response of fungi to stimuli. The results serve to develop smart sensing soles that are a building block toward more general fungible wearable devices.”
The primary use case for fungal slippers would be medical applications. However, corresponding author Anna Nicolaido, a senior lecturer in architecture and design and a member of the Unconventional Computing Lab at the University of the West of England, said, record Other uses are possible.
“Awareness of foot activity may also be useful in different settings such as driving, work and sports. In addition, innate insoles can assess health-related mobility parameters,” she said.
If this business is commercialized, there will be some marketing hurdles.
“Live insoles need to be kept moist, so the biggest challenge is getting customers to always wear wet insoles,” Nicolaido said. “The longevity of fungal insoles depends on moisture levels. Keeping the insoles moist and breathable without getting customers’ feet wet would be a great barrier. A flexible, water-resistant barrier between the bottom of the feet and live fungi (to keep feet dry) may lead to overcoming this challenge.”
One of the supposed advantages of fungal soles is that they do not require a battery pack for an electricity-based system such as Norf Run. However, the prototype was connected to ADC-24 Pico Data Logger. To allow for wireless monitoring, the production model would have to be connected to something like an Arduino board with a Wi-Fi module, Nicolaido said.
Since Arduino boards require battery power, fungal slippers currently don’t seem to differ much from traditional smart slippers in terms of signal transmission components. But this may change as designs evolve.
Researchers have found Fungi can act as memristors (resistors with memory), electronic oscillators, pressure, optical and chemical sensors, electrical analog computers. Mushroom-based materials may be adapted for wireless networks using harvested energy.
And if not, there is always soup. ®
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