Student-designed ‘smart slipper’ awarded Global Footwear Award

December 7, 2022


Facing a rapidly aging society, two UNNC PDM Year 4 students, Menghao Yuan and Yanzhe Wang, designed “Smart Slippers” which are not only comfortable to wear but also provide a caring and personalised healthcare solution for the elderly.

The “Smart Slippers” project was also awarded Global Footwear Awards Overall Winner in Special Awards, Winner in Social Impact, and Winner in Medical Footwear. The Global Footwear Award was founded by the Farmani Group, an organisation behind various competitions in the domains of design, architecture and photography (for example IDA, International Design Award). Its jury contains people from companies such as Adidas, Anta, Puma, Prada, Hugo Boss, etc. and is also supported by institutions such as RCA and MIT.

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The Smart Slippers consist of two parts: a pressure-sensitive pair of footwear and a UI design for health monitoring.

“There will be about 418 million older adults aged 60 and above by 2035. The social-economic context, characterised by an inverted pyramid family structure and the number of “empty nesters”, has compromised traditional Chinese family support for older adults. Therefore, the slippers will help to monitor and record the basic health data, amount of exercise every day. When an emergency happened, the app will also contact the person directly,” said a team member.

The “Smart Slipper” looks simple, but it is in fact a well-thought-out design. Firstly, the part of the slipper that wraps around the foot is made with 3D knitting technology. Additionally, the fabric inside the slipper is capable of interacting with pressure from its external environment. It is a breakthrough compared to most ‘lab slippers’ that have pressure sensors directly attached to them.

The highlight of this project is not only the product design itself, but also its motivation and humanistic approach: the care of elderly people. The sophisticated design of the slippers is part of a health monitoring system that monitors the status of elderly people, giving them an extra measure of peace of mind when living alone.

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Dr Martijn ten Bhömer, previous Assistant Professor and now an industrial consultant for the PDM programme, said that there are a few iconic industrial design products, which students always feel passionate about and can be great showcases to show the skills and knowledge they built up during their education, for example, car and furniture design. Without a doubt, footwear also belongs in this category. Footwear is an iconic type of product for industrial designers, as it is a highly complex combination of design, materials, manufacturing and technology.

“It is a great honour that this award demonstrates the education and extra-curricular activities of UNNC’s Product Design & Manufacture are so valuable for industry and society. I’m especially proud that the students not only won as an overall winner, but also won awards in the categories of social impact and medical footwear. This shows the ability of our students to consider important societal and user-centred principles in their design work,” said Martijn.

During the research and development process, these two students encountered many difficulties. For example, when they went to Santoni Company Shanghai to make the prototype, they were told that the 3D knitting machine was not ready yet, so they could only use 2D fabric to make the prototype. This was an escalating challenge for the students, who had never been involved in manufacturing before. The prototypes they made at first were far from what they had imagined in terms of wrapping and appearance. It was only after trial and many modifications that they discovered the knack of cutting and finally, with the help of the experts in factory, they were able to produce the ideal prototype sample. Most importantly, the student told us that he was grateful for the teamwork and efforts everyone put in this project.

Academic staff in the PDM programme are also committed to providing students with more industry related design projects, helping students to gain an in-depth understanding of the whole product design cycle.