Marines are testing boots that will prevent injuries

Marine Corps Systems Command’s Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad team has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory to create a boot insert prototype to help improve Marines’ health and performance.

The Mobility and Biomechanics Insert for Load Evaluation, or MoBILE, technology is handmade by the bioengineering staff members at Lincoln Labs with the Marine in mind. MoBILE helps to detect changes in mobility and agility, which will help MCSC make informed decisions on material composition and format of athletic and protective gear.

Marine Boots

Marine Corps-MIT Partnership

“Partnering with MIT has allowed us to create a groundbreaking research tool that will help inform future acquisition decisions and performance of Marines in the field,” said Navy Cmdr. James Balcius, Naval aerospace operational physiologist with the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad team.

The team has partnered with MIT since 2012 and coordinates the integration and modernization of everything that is worn, carried, used, or consumed by the Marine Corps rifle squad. It conducts systems engineering, and human factors and integration assessments on equipment from the perspective of the individual Marine.

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MIT Lincoln Labs is one of 10 federally funded research and development centers sponsored by the Defense Department. These centers assist the U.S. government with scientific research and analysis, systems development, and systems acquisition to provide novel, cost-effective solutions to complex government problems.

Load Sensors

MoBILE has flat, scale-like load sensors that are placed within the boot insole to measure the user’s weight during activities such as standing, walking, and running. The insert sensors are positioned in the heel, toe and arch, and they are capable of capturing data at up to 600 samples per second. When the sensors bend with the foot, the electronics register the bend as a change and send the information back to a master microcontroller for processing.

Marine, Rifle Squad, uniform


Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad members test the Mobility and Biomechanics Insert for Load Evaluation, or MoBILE, technology at Grafenwoehr, Germany, Oct. 27, 2016. Army photo by Spc. Nathanael Mercado

MoBILE will help users gauge how they are carrying the weight of their equipment and if their normal gait changes during activity, Balcius said. The sensor data provides information on stride, ground reaction forces, foot-to-ground contact time, terrain features, foot contact angle, ankle flexion, and the amount of energy used during an activity.

Ultimately, the sensors will provide operational data that will help Marines gather information on training and rehabilitation effectiveness, combat readiness impact, and route and mission planning optimization.

The Marine Corps is also testing its own version of a jungle combat boot. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Technology Leads to Healthier Marines

“MoBILE has been compared to a force-sensitive treadmill which is a gold-standard laboratory measurement,” said Joe Lacirignola, technical staff member in the Bioengineering Systems and Technologies Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. “Because MoBILE has a high sampling rate, the accuracy does not degrade with faster walking or running speeds. In the future, this accurate data could help provide early detection of injuries, ultimately leading to healthier Marines.”

Balcius said MoBILE will be tested this summer in a controlled environment on multiple terrains during road marches and other prolonged training events over a variety of distances.

“This tool is basically a biomechanics lab in a boot, which allows us to gather data at a scale we have not had until now,” said Mark Richter, director of MERS. “The resulting data will be useful to inform decisions that will impact the readiness and performance of our Marines.”