Digital foot could enhance neuroprosthetics

Researchers at Sheffield University have developed a digital foot sole that enables scientists to see the neurological signals that control how humans walk and balance.

The 'digital foot' could be used to develop more sophisticated bionic limbs
The 'digital foot' could be used to develop more sophisticated bionic limbs - Adobestock

The computational model provides a digital simulation of the signals that continuously flow through the body from the foot to the brain. The team believes it could be used to design more sophisticated neuroprosthetics – artificial limbs that can give the brain feedback about the world around is, in electrical form.

Called FootSim, the model allows scientists to map how the human nervous system continuously responds to contact with the soles of feet and changes in pressure points in unprecedented detail. It is described in a new paper in the journal iScience.

The digital sole model has been developed by Dr Rodrigo Kazu Siqueira, a computational neuroscientist at Sheffield University, and Natalija Katic, a PhD student at ETH Zürich and the University of Belgrade.

“To walk and maintain balance, humans rely on continuous feedback from the soles of our feet,” said Siqueira. “This information is sent in the form of electronic signals that travel through neurological pathways between our feet and brain.”


Until now, Siqueira explained, it has been difficult to study these signals, which makes it difficult to fix them when they’re disrupted or replicate them, for example in the use of bionic limbs.

“The model we’ve developed here at Sheffield now enables us to replicate the signals that allow the nervous system to walk and maintain balance in unprecedented detail,” Siqueira said.

A diagram of how the computational model works - Dr Rodrigo Kazu Siqueira/Sheffield University

“This level of insight opens up a world of possibilities, particularly for the future of healthcare. It could be used to help design new, more sophisticated assistive technologies that are more stable, responsive and reliable.”

Dr Kazu Siqueira is part of Dr Hannes Saal's Active Touch Laboratory, and together with Luke Cleland, a PhD student from the group, programmed the model in Sheffield’s Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine.

The work was done in collaboration with Canadian researchers from Guelph and Calgary universities and with a group led by Dr Stanisa Raspopovic at ETH Zürich.