Losing a leg shouldn't mean losing the ability to rock a pair of sky-high gold stilettos, but mass-market prosthetics usually aren't up for the job. A student team from Johns Hopkins University plans to turn that around with their prosthetic foot designed just for heels.
The working prototype took a year to create, and was recently put to the test by amputees.
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Appropriately called Prominence, the foot prosthetic is a Johns Hopkins University student design project advised by James K. Gilman, executive director of the Military & Veterans Health Institute and mechanical engineering faculty member Nathan Scott. Five recent grads from the Whiting School of Engineering collaborated with a medical doctor and prosthetic experts.
Although more than 2,000 American women have lost a foot or leg in military service, prosthetics on the market don't lift higher than two inches, according to the university. And that's just the military stat for women. There are many other potential heel-wearers among people who've had amputations from illness or injury.
Turns out there's a good reason why we haven't seen non-custom functional prosthetics feet for high heels, though. It's super hard to design. The foot has to be strong yet flexible, sturdy but lightweight, adjustable without any special tools, and able to support up to 250 pounds. The team tried out a bunch of approaches that failed including balloon-based and mousetrap springs.
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Finally they got it. The prototype weighs less than three pounds and has a footplate made from 28 layers of carbon fiber. Two interlocking aluminum disks with a lever attachment allow the heel height to be adjusted while an off-the-shelf hydraulic unit creates a smooth, flexible gait.
Johns Hopkins junior Alexandra Capellini gave the Prominence prosthetic a try, having lost her right leg from bone cancer as a child.
"It felt stable," she said in a university press release. "An adjustable ankle is useful in contexts even beyond high heels. Ballet flats, sneakers, boots, and high heels especially, all vary in height, so an adjustable ankle opens up opportunities to wear a variety of shoes."
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The team tested their latest prototype with three amputees and four non-amputees who wore two of the prosthetics at a time with a stilt-like setup. Next, they plan to do another round of prototyping with the goal of making the first mass-market prosthetic that works for high heels. Then the strutting can really start.
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