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Pitt Researchers Develop Computational Model to Predict Friction of Shoes and Prevent Falls

PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2018) … Slips and falls are one of the biggest causes of workplace injury in the U.S., and shoe choice can make all the difference in avoiding it. A proper shoe tread provides friction with the floor, which is necessary in preventing falling accidents. However, treads come in a variety of forms, and not all are designed to help prevent injury. A new computational model created by a team of researchers in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering may help in the design of safer shoes.

The project is led by Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt, and graduate student researcher Seyed Moghaddam, who conduct research in the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Beschorner’s lab focuses on the development of ergonomic solutions for preventing falling accidents through biomechanics and tribology fundamentals.

While a lot of research has been published on how surface features affect traction or friction, there remains a need to investigate actual shoe geometries to gather an understanding of the whole shoe-floor coefficient of friction. Beschorner’s latest findings are the result of a $1.5 million NIOSH R01 award he received in 2015 to better predict the wear rate of shoes. 

Beschorner and his team tackled this knowledge gap and recently published an article in the Journal of Biomechanics (doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2017.11.009) that discusses how they apply their computational model to measure and predict shoe-floor coefficient of friction. His lab is one of the first to use computational modeling to study friction between shoe and floor surfaces. Over the past three months, their publication has been the top downloaded article on the journal’s website.

“Shoe-floor friction is influenced by microscopic and macroscopic features of the shoe and flooring,” said Beschorner. “Using our computational model, we can look at individual features to determine how it contributes to friction mechanisms.”

“The model simulates shoe and floor interactions at multiple scales,” explains Beschorner. “This includes simulating the interaction of shoe and floor features at the micrometer scale as well as the visible scale. By combining information from these two scales, we can estimate the overall performance of the shoe.”

Beschorner said, “In the end, this will enable us to develop safer shoes more efficiently.” The next step for this team is to work with footwear companies to integrate these methods in their design process. 


Contact: Leah Russell