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The science of comfort

Sarina Tracy, sarina.tracy@photonics.com

Everyone has at least one pair: sneakers that flatten your feet. High heels that rub your heels raw. Loafers that cramp your toes. You try, fruitlessly, to patch the damage with bandages or thick socks. In today’s cookie-cutter world of shoe design, however, it is not uncommon to cope with the pain. Thankfully, with the help of biomechanics, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Spanish footwear company Camper is using various measurement devices to record the pressure and measurement of feet wearing shoes. In a biomechanical study, researchers at Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) analyzed the feet of 54 volunteers in various Camper shoes to establish the parameters affecting comfort.


Sore feet from ill-fitting shoes could be a thing of the past, thanks to a biomechanical study at Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

An optical motion-capture system consisting of 18 cameras monitored all movement of the volunteers’ legs while walking. Pressured insoles placed between the foot and the shoe recorded pressure applied to the foot, while force plates enabled measurement of contact forces between the ground and the user. The researchers also used electro-myography sensors to record the activity of the muscles in the human body.

“In this case, we focused on the movement of the ankle joint, as this is the closest to the shoe,” said Josep Maria Font, director of the division of biomechanics at the university’s Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB). “On the basis of this electrical measurement, we have also been able to establish how much muscular activity is required when using one shoe or another.”

In using special software, parameters and algorithms obtained by CREB, the researchers’ aim was to establish the factors that have an effect on the comfort of Camper shoes. Until now, this kind of biomechanical study had been applied only to athletic footwear, Font said.

Upon completion of testing, a statistical analysis of the physical measurements and key parameters was obtained, including a template of the angle of the ankle or knee calculated using mechanical engineering algorithms.

“With this information, the statistical data and the results of the survey, we were able to determine which parameters were more closely linked to the comfort perceived by the user,” Font said.

CREB is currently exploring the possibility of starting similar studies with other brands from the footwear industry.


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