Prof. Bose to Design Battery for ‘Smart’ Socks

smart sockBy Neil Nachbar

Wearable devices, such as a Fitbit, have become very common among people who exercise to track movement, calories lost, heart rate, etc.

For older adults who may be less active and may have some health issues, it would be beneficial for their physicians and family members to be aware of their activity level through the use of technology.

Thanks to a $50,000 Innovation Voucher from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, Arijit Bose, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, will be developing batteries for “smart” socks that will track movements and relay the data to others.

The voucher was recently granted to Modus Techwear, to integrate technology in the company’s AAGILE Footwear products that measure gait and encourage increased physical activity. Modus Techwear was formed in May 2017 by Kunal Makodiya, Assistant Professor in URI’s Department of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering, and Patricia Burbank, professor in URI’s College of Nursing.

“We are very excited about this collaboration with Profs. Bose and Lucht who are top experts in the battery technology,” said Kunal Mankodiya, Co-Founder of Modus Techwear, LLC.

“The socks will look and feel like a normal pair of socks, but they will have sensors built into them so that information may be transmitted wirelessly to someone’s phone or electronic device,” explained Bose. “There is a growing need in the geriatric community for such technology.”

Bose will be working closely with Brett Lucht, Professor of Chemistry at URI, on the project.

“We’ll be designing the battery in my lab and testing it in Brett’s lab,” said Bose. “We’ll be conducting electrochemical performance tests using a battery cycler. We’ll also have access to electron microscopes and other analytical tools to examine and optimize our battery.”

An undergraduate student and a graduate student will assist the two professors with their research.

One of the decisions Bose will have to make is determining the most effective location in the sock to place the sensor.

The most challenging stage of the project will be creating a battery for the sensors that will be safe and durable.

“Lithium-ion batteries contain electrolytes made up of organic liquids,” said Bose. “Those types of batteries have been known to overheat and catch fire, so we’re going to create an all-solid battery that will be much safer.”

When it comes time to wash the socks, Bose stated that the battery and sensors will either be contained in a hermetically sealed casing and remain in the sock or designed so that the technology can easily detach from the sock prior to washing.

Another consideration for Bose and Lucht is how to recharge the battery powering the sensors.

“Instead of using inductive coupling, in which two coils must be relatively close together, the battery will be recharged using radio frequency wireless charging,” said Bose. “That way, the battery can be three or four feet away from the power source and recharge.”

“We envision this project changing the way wearable devices are charged,” said Mankodiya. “Today, wearable devices are expected to work 24/7. However, this constant use burns out batteries very quickly. A powerful battery technology with a wireless charging function is the future.”

The money for the voucher will become available in January. Once it is received, Bose and Lucht will have six months to design and build the sensor and battery for the socks.

According to Bose, the socks are just one of countless ways wearable technology can be used to better peoples’ lives.

“This technology can be used to detect peripheral artery disease (a project at Stanford) or to determine how badly a soldier is injured in battle,” stated Bose. “It could even be designed to notify a parent if a diaper needed to be changed.”