Oct 12, 2015 | By Alec

Increasingly, even the sports world is recognizing that 3D printing technology can do a lot for them. Designers have already looked towards 3D printers for the production of customized 3D printed mouthguards, while even major brands like Nike have dabbled in 3D printing. However, this latest project isn’t all about getting a custom fit or cutting production costs, but about enhancing the athlete’s performance. Designer Christopher A. Mann has developed the fascinating Human Quarter Mile shoe, a complex and futuristic perfectly fitting exoskeleton that is designed to get the most out of the wearer’s entire foot, down to the tendons, muscles and nervous system.

Christopher A. Mann is a very talented designer with tons of CAD experience, having worked in the gaming industry for more than a decade. He was especially focused on creating humans in virtual worlds, so is very interested in how we walk, run and how our bodies move in general. Combine that with lots of experience with Autodesk’s 3ds Max, FDM 3D printing, and lots of jogging, and you’ve reached the foundations of the Human Quarter Mile.

As he explains to 3ders.org, his inspiration comes from a lot of different fields. ‘I am an avid trail runner/jogger, so human bio-mechanics, first and foremost would be top of the list.  I would do thought experiments while out jogging, so a large part of the exo-frame design and future control systems were created in this way,’ he tells us. ‘Of course Iron Man and various comics and mangas fueled my science fiction appetite in my youth. Serious sources of inspiration also include the first time I saw the robotic HAL exoskeleton, created by Cyberdyne, over 10 years ago.  The US army powered exoskeletons that appeared on the scene, especially the H.U.L.K., also fueled my inspiration.’ As such, the concept has already been growing in his mind for over a decade, though most of the work was done in the last two years or so.

The concept itself is quite brilliant. While most shoes we wear are focused on comfort and protecting the foot, Christopher is taking things to the next level by making the shoe an extended part of the foot that adds to the overall performance, and he is completely relying on 3D printing to achieve that. ‘[It’s] a modular, 3d printable exo-frame that snap-fits together. There are a few nuts and bolts in ultra critical areas, but with better hardware and materials,  the next design iteration should eliminate them,’ he writes. What’s more, by using 3D scanning technology, each shoe can fit like a glove.

But the real question is of course: how does it enhance the wearer’s performance? As Christopher explains, the secret is in the elastic rebound systems. ‘A stiff chassis, with built-in elastic rebound systems ensures maximum energy generation with minimal stress applied to the foot.  This means one can tension the rebound systems and provide maximum boost, the shoe structure taking on the stress of the stored energy.  The design ensures the stored energy is released in concert with the human gait cycle,’ he says. ‘This isn't a shoe, it is an energy storage and release/delivery system.’

And despite being 3D printed, even the current prototype is capable of withstanding all that human weight and pressure. Check it out for yourself in the video below. This is the first prototype (designed in 3ds Max) to be 3D printed, and was completed on a Vellemann K8200 3D printer. 3D printed in PLA, Christopher consciously went for a 20% infill to make the walls very thin. ‘This was done to get the first prototype/proof of concept done and tested before winter hits, as I don't have access to a workshop yet,’ he says. ‘I attribute it not falling apart and shattering when I jogged in it for the first time to solid design, made possible by virtual engineering and assembly in 3ds Max.’

This result is quite impressive, considering that Christopher only began 3D printing about two years ago. So far, he is very pleased with the performance of the Velleman K8200 3D printer, though he largely sticks to PLA filament. ‘I have not had the chance to play around with other materials yet, but I am very excited to use filaments such as Taluman nylon's, PETG and Ninjaflex/flexible PLA in my next prototype iterations,’ he adds.

So far, he is also very pleased with the results himself, especially considering the lack of a proper budget or access to a professional workshop. ‘I cant emphasize enough how important 3d printing has been to my production process.  I was able to leverage my experience with 3d software into creating something that works in the real world, in my backyard.  It is a game changer,’ he says. The next design iteration for this remarkable shoe is already completed and is waiting to be 3D printed.

While the project is thus coming along nicely, Christopher did add that he is in desperate need of some (financial) assistance. Really in need of an upgrade in terms of materials and working location, he asks excited readers if they’re willing to donate to this cause and help realize this fascinating 3D printing innovation. If you’re interested, head over to his project’s website here for more information.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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