Diabetes is a potentially debilitating disease that is set to affect 334 million people by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. One of its most common complications is the diabetic foot, which may involve amputation of a part of the foot. In a move to help sufferers, the EU-funded project 'Special shoes movement' (Sshoes) supported the development and production of footwear and insoles for patients with diabetic foot. The project defined new industrial systems for the footwear industry based on three-dimensional (3D) scanning, progressive design and customisation tools. It incorporated flexible production technologies that advanced functionality, comfort, health and performance, in addition to modelling anatomy, particularly the biomechanics of the lower limb. Moreover, the products were designed to be eco-friendly and to promote sustainable production. In more technical terms, the design process incorporated advanced software algorithms based on artificial neural networks to process huge amounts of collected data and produce customised footwear. This high-tech approach employs advanced computer-aided design (CAD) tools and accelerometer readings to measure gait activity levels, foot deformation and other parameters in order to create the ultimate shoe. Style and fashion have also been considered, as well as the most appropriate materials for insoles and outsoles. The new prototype shoe would even be able to measure pressure points, temperature and humidity inside the shoe itself, in addition to evaluating foot motion. Principally, the process has involved sophisticated 3D scanning equipment for the foot using several cameras, advanced software and two industrial robots. The technology not only promises to bring relief to millions of diabetics, but also to advance the footwear sector in general, such as in applications related to occupational or more comfortable fashion shoes. The humble shoe may finally be reinvented.
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