March 6, 2009 The vision of Agent 86 mumbling into his shoe is one of the most endearing images from the slapstick 60s spy series Get Smart, but an Australian scientist who has built a working version of the shoe phone using 21st century technology sees serious applications for this kind of device in the medical field.
Although it was built as a prop for an amateur theatre production, inventor Paul Gardner-Stephen, a computer scientist from Flinders University, believes that shoe mounted communications linked to monitoring sensors could be used in biomedical aplications.
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“Relaying voice communications via a shoe is technologically similar to relaying medical data for remote patient monitoring, such as pulse, blood pressure, blood oxygenation and so forth,” said Dr Gardner-Stephen.
This scenario could see a heart monitor linked via Bluetooth to a transmitter and small computer in the shoe which processes the information and relays it back to the hospital.
Beyond that, sensors could also be used to remotely detect if an elderly patient suffers from a fall. “There is also potential to develop the telephone function for use in home nursing and aged care facilities," said Gardner-Stephen. The shoe based platform makes it possible to detect shocks and orientation changes resulting from, for example, a fall. On detecting this, the device could telephone a medical carer and initiate a speaker phone conversation and call for any assistance required.”
There are also benefits in terms of harvesting the kinetic energy of walking to power the device and significantly increase the duration between battery charges.
Gardner-Stephen also believes the (we think somewhat awkward) prospect of removing your shoe to have a conversation isn't necessarily an issue. “Shoes are well accepted by most people, and are simple to put on and take off,” he said.