The average American owns about 19 pairs of shoes, according to a poll conducted by Time Magazine, but some people in developing countries don’t own any.
To address this problem and other issues that affect humans across the globe, a scholars program at Ohio State challenges its students to one challenge each semester in hopes that it comes up with a potential solution or design that could help those in need.
This past semester, Humanitarian Engineering Scholars were tasked with designing an expandable shoe for their second Design Challenge of the academic year, which could potentially give poor families an affordable way to keep shoes on the feet of their rapidly growing children.
“We kind of take shoes for granted,” said Matt Schiller, a second-year in electrical engineering who participated in the event. “But when you are developing and growing, you go through shoes at least once a year, and when (families) aren’t able to afford those, kids (in some developing countries) just don’t wear shoes.”
At the week-long event in March, six teams of HES students — comprised of 26 students — competed to design an affordable, durable shoe that kids can use throughout their childhood.
Schiller was on the winning team, helping create a shoe similar in design to a Chaco sandal, but additionally includes a flexible toe which could fold over a child’s foot and can be slowly let down — providing more room for a bigger foot — as the child’s foot grows.
“The inspiration behind the Design Challenge was primarily for African children who don’t have nice shoes or couldn’t afford them, and they’re walking outside constantly, miles and miles a day,” said Ben Jackson, a second-year in mechanical engineering and another member of the winning team.
While some expandable shoes already exist, they are made with materials that easily wear down and are unsuitable to a hot climate, said Jackson.
“Our goal was basically to make a design that got rid of those challenges,” he said. “So by focusing on materials like rubber and polyester webbing for straps — those are more durable materials that last a little longer and could fulfill the requirements that a shoe in those conditions would need to meet.”
By the end of the competition, Schiller, Jackson and the rest of the team had created a 3D-printed prototype of their design and had prepared a presentation outlining the materials, design and cost of their shoe, which they call the “Groe.”
They currently do not have plans to market the shoe, but the team said it thinks raising awareness about problems like this is an important aspect of humanitarian engineering.
“They’re seemingly simple issues, but very complex to solve,” said Cole Zemelka, a member of the team and a second-year in electrical and computer engineering. “It just takes a little bit of time. I mean, we’re four freshmen — you just need to put your head to it and get to work.”
The members of the team each expressed interest in focusing on elements of humanitarian engineering in the future, and Schiller and Zemelka will be traveling to Guatemala for a week over the summer to implement some of what they have learned through the HES program.
No matter where their careers take them, they said they hope to continue using engineering to benefit the global community.
“We have everything we need, everything we could want and the means to get there, but so many people in this world don’t really have the opportunity to even be in a situation like that,” Jackson said. “So if we can create something or create a situation where some people can have opportunities that they’ve never had before to reach their full potential, I think that’s pretty awesome.”