A better boot for soldiers, miners and tradies on track thanks to Bendigo-based research

Dr Rodrigo Bini’s latest research project to develop a better boot for defence force personnel highlights the remarkable breadth of expertise on the Bendigo Campus.

The Bachelor of Exercise Science course coordinator hails from Brazil, where for two years he taught undergraduate and postgraduate medical students at the School of Physical Education of the Brazilian Army.

“Our cohort were mostly tenants and captains of the defence force,” Dr Bini says. “As part of my experience, I was always asked to provide advice on shoes and their training boots. I also conducted research projects looking at walking gait patterns when using working boots, which is a key component of their operational gear.”

In 2012, Dr Bini spent 12 months at the Brazilian Institute of Shoe Technology as a research officer, conducting walking gait analysis of people while wearing a variety of shoes, including high heels, sports shoes, and even the all-Aussie thong.

“Our testing was part of an accredited service to give the industry a stamp of shoe quality, in line with guidelines from international bodies,” Dr Bini says. “I’m still in contact with former colleagues at the institute, who are collaborating with this idea of developing an improved working boot.”

Dr Bini’s projects is one of six to receive a total $20,577 from this year’s Holsworth Research Initiative grants through the La Trobe Rural Health School.

He will work with Dr Adriane Muniz, of the School of Physical Education of the Brazilian Army, and Dr Rudnei Palhano, of the Brazilian Institute of Technology for Leather, Footwear and Artifacts, plus engage Australia experts who have studied body armour in firefighters.

“We plan to work with boot manufacturers to use materials like carbon fibre, that have recently been shown to be effective in running shoes, which could improve the performance of operational tasks performed by soldiers,” Dr Bini says.

“For example, if we could improve their energy efficiency during long marches performed with heavy backpacks, they could potentially reduce fatigue and improve performance in subsequent tasks like combat.”

Dr Bini says the Australian and New Zealand Safety Footwear Standard currently only covers product safety without regard for comfort. His project aims to fill this gap, and inform the design of an optimised working boot, based on the biomechanical responses of commercially available working boots used in Australia. The collaboration will allow for a boot that minimizes musculoskeletal injuries and maximizes comfort.

“If this prototype boot works well, then we may be able to produce a boot, co-designed with the industry, that will improve the performance of any workers who wear boots, such as miners, tradies and those in the emergency services.”

Dr. Bini is planning to use this research as a basis for developing more projects on the biomechanical properties of shoes in the newly-established Biomechanics Laboratory at La Trobe’s Bendigo Campus.

The laboratory will boost the development of gait-related projects and allow La Trobe researchers to seek broader VicHealth and ARC funding to develop federal standards for working boots that optimise workers’ performance.

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