Sustainable shrooms lead to happy feet

A team of undergraduate students from the School of Architecture, Design and Planning have developed a smart insole, made from mushroom spores, containing electronic microprocessors to monitor foot health and encourage sensory awareness.

MyHeel smart insoles has been developed by a team of three Design Computing students from the University of Sydney. Their aim was to develop a podiatric product that helps increase awareness and encourages early intervention for people at risk of developing foot-related problems.

The team, led by Dr Phillip Gough from the School of Architecture Design and Planning, presented their invention at the Biodesign Challenge Summit 2021.

"Students were encouraged to explore how they might apply natural processes to real-world challenges, how these new applications might look and function, and ultimately how they will affect our lives and environment," said Dr Gough.

What is it?

The MyHeel smart insoles can be ethically grown at home and allow wearers to monitor their foot health via a personalised web application. Wearers can also engage in interactive foot exercises that visualise movement via bespoke biofeedback technology, to address particular problems?/to prevent problems occurring’.

How does it work?

Each customer will receive a Grow-It-Yourself (GIY) MyHeel kit containing everything they need to grow their own MyHeel smart insoles at home. The kit contains: a laser-cut cardboard model that can be assembled to form the basis of the grown structure, mycelium mushroom spawn and materials for growing, a custom microprocessing system to be implanted into the insole during growing, and step-by-step instructions detailing how the user can grow the MyHeel insoles at home.

Why Mycelium?

Dr Gough said the invention had the potential to be commercially successful: "The MyHeel project can take cardboard or sawdust, use a mushroom to grow a new insole, with reusable electronics inside, and the mushroom can be composted when the product ends its use.As a highly durable and fast-growing material, mycelium (i.e. the vegetative part of a fungus) has a wide range of applications in the field of biodesign. Mycelium could potentially transform the orthotics design industry - by offering an eco-friendly alternative to regular orthotic manufacturing materials based on plastic materials that inevitably end up in landfill. The MyHeel smart insoles will encourage bioremediation (the use of living organisms) because, once the insole has eventually worn down, wearers will be able to remove the electronic microprocessor, compost the original insole, and regrow a new one. The potential for MyHeel smart insoles to be grown by the wearers themselves means that they can be accessed by a wide range of people - including those in countries with limited access to foot health care aid.

Dr Gough said the invention had the potential to be commercially successful: "The MyHeel project can take cardboard or sawdust, use a mushroom to grow a new insole, with reusable electronics inside, and the mushroom can be composted when the product ends its use.

"Projects like MyHeel are able to take waste and use it in new products. Students were encouraged to explore how they might apply natural processes to real-world challenges, how these new applications might look and function, and ultimately how they will affect our lives and environment."

A team of undergraduate students who envisioned a new way to harness design and biotechnology, has been selected as a finalist to present at the Virtual Biodesign Challenge Summit.

University of Sydney students gathered with students from across nine countries at Parsons School of Design and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York in late June for the Biodesign Challenge Summit to showcase projects that use biodesign to address global challenges.

A team of undergraduate students who envisioned a new way to harness design and biotechnology, has been selected as a finalist to present at the Biodesign Challenge Summit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.


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