Life on Foot

MIT Self Assembly Lab creates Shape-shifting Minimal Shoe

Minimal Shoe

Using a responsive “active textile”, the Self Assembly Lab at MIT has created a 3D printed Minimal Shoe that adapts to fit your feet.

While big brands like Adidas and Nike are racing to bring 3D printed shoes to the market, MIT’s Self Assembly Lab has just considerably upped the ante.

Under the supervision of Lab director Skylar Tibbits, industrial designers Christophe Guberan and Carlo Clopath have created futuristic ‘active shoes’ under the Minimal Shoe project. These lightweight shoes can automagically conform to the precise size and contours of your own foot.

The active textile in the shoe is created by 3D printing extruded plastic in varied layer thicknesses — and in programmed patterns — onto stretched textiles.

Once the textile is released from being stretched it reconfigures itself into the pre-programmed shape. Thus, as an application for footwear, the material can contract into the exact shape of your foot.

The benefit is that this 3D printing technique reduces the complexity of stretching fabric onto rigid structural frames by a considerable margin. As Tibbits explains:

“It’s really about trying to open up the possibility that all of our textiles can be active and responsive to the environment as well as the user and his or her performance. So we don’t have to think of our world as this static, dead and cold materials. They can be highly active and it doesn’t mean that they’re any more expensive. It doesn’t mean that we have robots or sensors because we have these really subtle ways of combining material properties to make textiles active.”

Sportswear Companies showing interest in the Minimal Shoe

active shoe

The team at Self Assembly Lab have presented two possibilities for manufacturing the Minimal Shoe.

The more ambitious version sees the whole shoe — upper and lower — being 3D printed. However, given the expense and practicality of 3D printing an entire shoe, a more efficient approach would be to print the upper part of the shoe and then attach it to traditional materials.

For this hybrid manufacturing technique, the team limited the number of 3D printed parts to those only required to be ‘active’. The 3D printed materials would then be combined with more traditional footwear materials like leather and rubber, allowing for greater customization and faster prototyping. Guberan says:

“ is an active textile and it’s a work in progress. We can shrink the size of the shoe, have it contract around your feet. 3D printing shoes is quite long and inefficient, so we minimized the amount of 3D printing used. It’s quite interesting to say that we don’t have to 3D print the entire shoe, but we can add to existing material.”

Though the shape-shifting Minimal Shoe is still a work in progress, an unnamed sportswear company has apparently already shown interest. And based on the continued fever over Nike Mag from Back to the Future Part II, there’s no doubt that self-assembling and programmable shoes would easily find a place on the market.

The Minimal Shoe project was undertaken as part of an invitation to design future footwear for Camper’s Life On Foot exhibition at the London Design Museum, showing visitors traditional shoemaking is being shaped by contemporary design and new technologies.

Source: The Creator’s Project