Tiny glass fibers are the secret to boots made for walkin' (on ice)

A team of Canadian researchers don't think cleats and studs are the way to go when it comes to winter boots. In fact they've developed what they believe are superior alternatives: ones that use minuscule bits of glass instead. The team has designed boot soles embedded with glass particles than can grip slippery surfaces and yet feel like regular rubber on ordinary flooring. These particles give the soles a sandpaper-like texture, with each one acting as a microscopic stud. To make sure their creation provides enough grip, the researchers test their prototypes in a self-contained room with smooth, tiltable floors.

Reza Rizvi from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute explains why they've decided to work on this project:

I think anyone who has slipped or fallen on ice can testify that it is a painful or nerve-raking experience. Now imagine being frail or disabled -– a slippery sidewalk or a driveway is all that it takes to trigger a life-changing fall. A serious fall on ice resulting in a hip fracture can be a death sentence for an older adult.

At the moment, they make these special soles by extruding slabs of thermoplastic polyurethane sandwiching layers of glass fibers running parallel to the surface. They then slice pieces off the slab like one would slice a loaf of bread. Unfortunately, that process isn't feasible for mass production, so they've also developed an easier, automated procedure to follow once their product hits the market. For now, though, they're still working to make the soles more durable and resistant to the abuse they're bound to get every winter.

[Image credit: Reza Rizvi, Yue Li, and Sharon Ravindran/ Toronto Rehabilitation Institute]