Researchers from Canada have created a shoe sole material with a better grip on slippery surfaces.
The material, made up of glass fibres embedded in rubber, is described in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
“I think anyone who has slipped or fallen on ice can testify that it is a painful or nerve-raking experience,” said Reza Rizvi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
“Now imagine being frail or disabled – a slippery sidewalk or a driveway is all that it takes to trigger a life-changing fall. A serious fall on ice resulting in a hip fracture can be a death sentence for an older adult.”
Rizvi and his colleagues have developed a new method to manufacture a type of rubber which digs in on the micro-scale.
The material is made up of thermoplastic polyurethane, a rubbery plastic, embedded with tens of thousands of tiny glass fibres which protrude like microscopic studs and give the material the feel of fine sandpaper.
The material looks like regular rubber, will stretch in similar ways and also performs just as well on dry surfaces. But on ice the rubber-glass composite provides significantly better traction.
“The materials required for creating a high friction composite are not expensive, but the process of slicing and rearranging the rubber is not easily scalable,” Rizvi said.
The team has found a way to automate the process so that the material can be cheaply mass-produced.
There’s more work to be done to improve the wear-resistance. The slip-resistant properties of the material fade with use. The team is working on improvements.
“I am most excited about taking my research and having it applied to a serious societal issue of winter safety,” Rizvi said.
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