Search impact stories
Video Content: 
June 2018

Digital insole helps visually impaired wearers take a step forward to the future

At a glance
The intern

Balkiss Friaa, Monastir University, Tunisia 

Hosted by

Professor Martin Otis, Department of Applied Sciences, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi

The research

Development of a ‘smart’ shoe insole to assist people with severe visual impairments and blindness

For individuals with severe visual impairments or blindness, probing canes can be an essential tool to navigate daily life. But what if there were a type of shoe that could warn of impending objects, and help navigate new environments without a cane?

A research team at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi has asked just that, and are developing a ‘smart’ insole for shoes that will be able to provide navigational feedback — such as a pulse or vibration — to the wearer. Having already built a prototype, this summer they’ve engaged an international research intern for her insight into smart fabrics that could bring it one step closer to reality.  

Balkiss Friaa is a senior undergraduate researcher from Monastir University in Tunisia. This summer, she is researching how to incorporate smart fabrics into the design of the insole, a project led by Professor Martin Otis at Chicoutimi.GRI Balkiss

Made from the newest types of materials, smart fabrics allow for digital components to be seamlessly embedded into them. The fabric Balkiss chooses for the insole must be flexible enough to be comfortable for the wearer, while allowing for safe pulses of electricity that facilitate the feedback mechanism.

As a student in Tunisia’s only program for textiles engineering, Balkiss is excited by the unique opportunity to apply her skills in this project. She says, “This internship is a great opportunity to combine my passion for research into a project that will help my career.

“It’s very important to me to improve my communication skills, to learn to be flexible in new environments like Canada, and to explore new cultures. I’m enjoying my time in Quebec very much for all of these reasons. I’m grateful that this Mitacs internship has given me this opportunity.”

Balkiss hopes to identify a suitable smart fabric to help Professor Otis’ team develop the next phase of the prototype during her internship.


Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink research internship program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Saskatchewan, and Research Manitoba.

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; Brazil's Unidersidade de Sao Paulo; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education and Tecnológico de Monterrey; Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord; and the Ukrainian-Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: