Soft, smart pressure sensors

Published Apr 28, 2023

Research Assistant Eilish Marra has developed a novel type of smart, pressure sensing material that can be used to design better lower limb prosthetics and monitor diabetic foot ulcers. A keen entrepreneur, she's working with Wellington UniVentures and KiwiNet's Emerging Innovator programme to make the leap from academia to business. 

In New Zealand alone, 1300 people lose their lower limbs every year, and 40% of these patients are fitted with a prosthetic. Currently, creating a custom-fit prosthetic involves a process of trial and error, but Eilish’s material can be inserted into a prosthetic to sense pressure points as it's being fitted, creating a pressure map that clinicians can use to ensure a comfortable fit.

Preventing and monitoring diabetic foot ulcers is another application that Eilish is exploring.

“By working with Peke Waihanga – NZ Artificial Limb Service, we learned that the majority of foot amputations are a result of diabetic ulcers. Our technology can be used to create an insole that prevents ulcers before they take hold.”

Worn inside the shoe, the pressure sensing insole could map the bottom of a patient’s foot, sending real-time data to their clinician. This data could be used to make medical decisions about whether an ulcer is forming or changing.

Eilish knows entrepreneurship is a good career fit for her, and she’s excited to learn how to run a successful start-up through the EI programme.

“I’m enjoying learning about what kind of role I’d like to play in a future company – I can’t do everything, so it’s about figuring out where I can have most impact and what roles I should delegate to others.”

Wellington UniVentures’ Commercialisation Manager Sam Wojcik is leading an exploratory commercialisation project with Eilish based on her research, alongside the EI programme. 

“Eilish is eager to see her research turned into a product that can help people. The EI programme is a perfect fit for Eilish as she prepares to spin-out a company and make that jump between academia and entrepreneurship," he says.

Eilish Marra and Sam Wojcik