Fashion designers are starting to use all kinds of technology in their garments. Scientific progress has always been an important part of shoe design — the invention of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear directly led to boots that could climb Mount Everest, for example — and pro athletes consistently turn to Nike, Reebok, and other companies to create performance-enhancing footwear.
Here are 11 pairs of shoes for the future, some that heal themselves, give you directions, and even generate electricity.
One of the most important jobs athletic shoes have is absorbing the impact of our feet hitting the ground. Over time, that impact can wreak havoc on our bodies, weakening joints and damaging bones. Shoe companies have a number of different technologies at play to mitigate that energy, but one of the coolest and most futuristic is seen in the Enko Suspension kicks made by French runner Christian Freschi. Instead of absorbent material, the Suspensions feature a pair of actual shock absorbers like you’d see in a car, connected to a hinged second sole. The coils absorb energy and release it when you push off, giving you more power in your stride.
If we talk about fashion statements from sci-fi movies, one that everybody wants to see is the self-lacing Nikes from Back To The Future Part II. The shoe giant hasn’t been able to create them for real, but a new startup says that they’ve solved the problem of tying your shoes forever. The Powerlace system incorporates a pressure plate at the heel — when you step into it and push down, it locks in laces on the side to a preset level. To release them, simply pull on the lever at the back. It’s a remarkably elegant system that could be the next big thing.
Many of these futuristic shoes aren’t meant for mass consumption — they’re ideas pumped out by R&D labs trying to leverage technology to new uses. That doesn’t make Lenovo’s Smart Shoes any less cool, though. Revealed at the 2015 Tech World show in Beijing, the Smart Shoes come with flexible screens on the side that display a variety of biometric data, from heart rate and calorie burn to the wearer’s mood. Shoes that tell the world that you’re feeling pissed off are basically the perfect item of clothing for every New Yorker, so sign us up for a pair.
Lechal haptic footwear
We tend to think of our shoes as fairly dumb objects, but what if they could help us navigate? That’s the idea behind the Lechal haptic footwear, which were first devised by a researcher at Hewlett-Packard’s labs in Bangalore, India. The slick-looking kicks feature a customized insole that communicates via Bluetooth to a custom smartphone app. Users set a destination and then, when they near an intersection, the app triggers vibrations in the insole to tell you which way to turn. It’s a pretty cool little gimmick that could be very useful, especially if you don’t want to stare at your phone all the time. It can also track steps and calories burned.
Matching your shoes to your outfit can be a tough proposition, especially if you go nuts with color and pattern. That’s why the Shift Sneakers are so awesome. These high-tech kicks incorporate a type of fiber that can change to reflect different wavelengths of light, sort of how LEDs display color. Using a smartphone app, you can target different parts of the shoe’s surface and program it to display the hue of your choice. The creators want to make software that lets couples automatically synch their shoe colors, as well as pulling a palette from a photograph. The product is still in the concept stages, but it sounds damn cool.
Garneau Carbon Team
Sweaty feet are one of the most unpleasant side effects of exercise, but technology is finding ways for us to control that natural human function. The Garneau Carbon Team bicycle shoes were first shown to the public in 2012 on Team Europcar, who wore them through training and in the Tour de France. The gimmick for these futuristic shoes is the insole, which is woven with threads of the chemical xylitol. Xylitol is primarily used as a sweetener in food products, but it also causes fibers to react to your sweat, which it converts to a refrigerant that rapidly cools down. The drop in temperature both pauses sweating and refreshes your feet. Pretty cool, no pun intended.
Fashion is an unpredictable thing — what can be hip one second is played out the next. The Volvori Timeless pumps from iShuu Tech are designed so that they can be constantly changed to keep up with the latest trends. The side panels are made from E Ink material — like the kind on Amazon Kindles — that can be changed with a proprietary iPhone or Android app. A massive library of patterns can be used, and since it doesn’t take any energy to maintain the display, the in-shoe batteries last an incredibly long time.
Most of the technology we’ve covered thus far has been used to make shoes more comfortable or more stylish, but the Electric Cinderella high heels designed by Simona Brusa Pasque add in some very fascinating functionality. First devised as part of her Master’s thesis at the Interaction Design Institute, the silver pumps contain a built-in stun gun that delivers 100,000 volts from the toe of the shoe. It’s activated by a control on a necklace, and the weapon displays a visual spark before discharging, so you’re not going to accidentally murder a soccer ball or anything.
Energy and how to get it is the primary motivator of a lot of human activity, but what if you could generate volts just walking around? That’s the gimmick behind the Instep Nanopower shoes, which were developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The shoe’s insole contains a microfluid device where tiny drops of liquid move through a substrate to generate small amounts of electricity, which can be used to charge a mobile phone or other device. The company is also using it to power a WiFi hotspot embedded in the shoe.
You can’t dance without music, right? The Adidas Megalizers aim to prove that false by creating shoes that make their own music. The Megalizer, created to promote the 2011 MEGA collection, feature pressure sensors in the heel and toe of each shoe that transmit data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a dongle in a nearby PC. That PC runs special software that triggers audio samples based on foot movements. The end result is an audio track that changes based on the actions of a dancer. The Megalizers weren’t ever put up for sale, but we hold out hope that the technology will find its way into a production shoe someday.
Let’s close this out with a pair of kicks that are purely conceptual right now, but might give us an inkling of what our footwear in the future might look like. The Protocell shoes designed by Shamees Aden are 3D printed out of biological material that can regenerate and repair itself when it gets damaged and conforms to the exact shape of your feet. The cells can inflate and deflate in response to pressure and temperature, or at least they will — the Protocells are still in the conceptual stage, and chances are that they won’t be on the market for at least 40 years.
We’re still in the early stages of creating shoes that do more than look good and provide support — and judging from the above, we’ll have to first figure out that futuristic functionality before we can toss the creations through something like Nike ID and make them shoes that look so cool that we inappropriately wear them to formal events.
Article and images via Geek