Nov 3, 2015 | By Kira

Though 3D printing materials today are becoming more and more advanced, one of the most exciting fields is self-assembling materials: 3D printed textiles, wood, or even carbon fiber that can actively transform into predetermined shapes or patterns in response to heat or other environment stimuli—think of boxes that ship flat and then deploy into storage on arrival, foldable batteries, or even space structures. Also referred to as 4D printing,’ self-assembling and programmable objects open new possibilities in construction, product manufacturing, shipping, and user interaction, and now, they could offer a new future for 3D printed wearables and 3D printed shoes.

At MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, a cross-disciplinary research lab directed by Skylar Tibbets, industrial designers Christophe Guberan and Carlo Clopath were challenged to create futuristic ‘active shoes’ under the Minimal Shoe project. And what could be more futuristic than lightweight shoes that automatically conform to the precise shape and size of your own foot?

The active textile they used was created by 3D printing plastic material in varied layer thicknesses and in programmed patterns onto stretched textiles. When the textile is released from the stretch, it ‘jumps’, or reconfigures itself, into the pre-programmed shape. In this case, it would contract and jump into exact shape of your foot. Whereas stretching fabric onto rigid structural frames usually requires complex molding and mechanical methods, their 3D printing technique reduces the complexity of forming processes. Also, unlike other wearable technology, self-assembling textiles don’t come with complicated, integrated robots. Rather, they respond entirely to the environment around them.

Active shoes upper fold

Active shoes upper cutting

“[Minimal Shoe] is an active textile and it’s a work in progress,” said Guveran. “We can shrink the size of the shoe, have it contract around your feet.” The material is translucent, lightweight and extremely malleable, and gives the shoe a space-aged, light-as-air aesthetic.

The shoe’s use of 3D printing technology is particularly interesting. Since it is incredibly long, complex, and inefficient to 3D print an entire shoe, they minimized the amount of 3D printed parts to only those that are required to be ‘active’. This hybrid manufacturing technique, which would then combine the 3D printed materials with more traditional footwear materials like leather and rubber, allows for more customization as well as faster prototyping.

Active shoes upper and sole folding

The researchers have presented two possibilities for manufacturing the Minimal Shoe. The more ambitious version sees the whole shoe—upper and lower—being 3D printed. However, Tibbits says that the more realistic version would be to print the upper part of the shoe and then attach it to traditional materials. “We can have active textiles that self-transform, but also make it efficient so that it could be feasible to produce these because it’s a minimal amount of time and material to get the textile highly active,” said Guberan.

Tibbits added that a big part of their research is about pushing the limits and opening up the possibilities of active textiles “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.”

Though the shape shifting Minimal Shoe is a work in progress and the research team is still finding out what exactly it can be used for, an unnamed sportswear company has apparently already shown interest. Recently, many high profile names in the shoe industry have been stepping into the world of 3D printing: this month, Nike patented 3D printing shoe technology, and Adidas has teamed with Materialise to present the future of 3D printed performance footwear, Futurecraft 3D. Though the uses are still being worked out, there’s almost no doubt that self-assembling and programmable shoes or other wearables would 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 Design London Museum, which took visitors on a creative journey into how traditional shoemaking is being shaped by contemporary design and new technologies.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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