Luc Fusaro, a French engineering and design student who does not work for Nike or any other shoe company, is creating a 3-D-printed running shoe. It's revolutionary, but he's hoping it barely affects runners at all. To be precise (and maybe optimistic), the shoes--branded "Designed to Win"--could shave 3.5 percent off a runner's time. That's it. But in the professional running world, that's the difference between Olympic glory and heading home in defeat.
Take, for example, the men's 100-meter dash. Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt is the current record-holder with a time of 9.58 seconds, while two Canadians, Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin, are tied for the 10th position at 9.84 seconds. The percentage difference between those times is about 2.7 percent. If it works as well as Fusaro hopes, you could strap a pair onto one of the Canucks and have them go at beyond Boltian speeds. Strap them to a superhuman like Bolt and nobody'll come close.
The process that the Royal College of Art student is using for it isn't totally new, and it's something even a colleague might doubt. "People always ask me, 'Are you sure it doesn't break?'" Fusaro says. He uses a 3-D printing technique known as selective laser sintering (here's a good video primer). To make it work, a digital file is first fed into a computer. Then a layer of powder is set up. Precision lasers zap a single, tiny layer of the powder, which forms it into a single, tiny layer of the shoe. After that, the layer is lowered and the lasers zap the next section of powder, which forms the next layer of a shoe. The heat and energy sent into the powder causes the layers to adhere to each other as the machine goes. After enough layers, you've got a shoe (or anything else). SLS is popular for its ability to work with various materials, but Fusaro's shoe uses a relatively conventional one: nylon polyamide powder.
The entire process is sort of a more industrial version of Makerbot, which also works in layers but builds from the bottom up and does so more fluidly and without distinct layers--it doesn't stop and start, like SLS does--rather than "selectively sintering" the portions that it needs and leaving the rest behind.
To determine the ideal structure for the shoe on a case-by-case basis, Fusaro scans athletes as they perform different athletic feats, such as jumping off of a box or running. That gives him a better idea of what he needs to tweak to improve performance of the shoe. After that, using additive manufacturing--also known as 3-D printing--he can create a one-off shoe out of the powder and tailor it to an athlete. "In one night," he says, "I have my shoes." Other top athletes can get shoes specially tailored, but that's often for cosmetic purposes, like slight changes to the material or spikes. (Usain Bolt's famous gold Adidas are actually just regular, off-the-shelf Adidas--with a custom gold upper.) 3-D modeling for athletes is something rarer.
The resulting shoe weighs 96 grams, which may be the lightest ever. (The Nike Mayfly, a superlight, minimalist racing shoe, weighs in at about 136 grams.) Even if the component materials aren't as unique, "It's not in the material that I save weight," Fusaro says, "but it's in the structure that I give it." And even if that structure is all about function, the spikes and gold coating that are printed together (at least on the model he's currently showing) also look really neat. Like Adidas for Hermes.
Fusaro has been testing prototypes of the shoe on European athletes, but SLS nylon is not quite as flexible as Fusaro wants it to be, so he's continually tweaking the pattern of the material to help that. Once he finds out the process to make that work, he says, he'll be on track to a fully functional shoe.
Fusaro already has an impressive resume for a student, and he even has some Olympics cred. A former athlete--"My project is applying mechanical engineering skills to a field that I like"--he's done work before in sports design, and he'll be making a design debut at London's games; his team won a contest to determine the Olympic podium design, which will be unveiled this summer. But before the shoe can enter commercial production, he still has some tweaking to do. Hopefully, he says, we'll see a Designed to Win debut in 2016.
BULL. I would love to see the numbers behind the 3.5% reduction in time.
3.5% is an INCREDIBLE amount that requires much more than just a modified shoe could provide. Not to mention the usage of the statistic doesn't list the reduction at which distance. Are we to assume you could also shave off 3.5% in a marathon? Such a sloppy use of statistics.
I'm just going to straight up call this out - there's no way without rigorous testing that anyone could claim that reduction. There are too many variables in play.
It's a pretty design, but putting numbers behind this is a JOKE.
Ummm, no... this is a fun article, and sure, it's "Olympics current", you have to publish something, but you should have a little more editorial dignity than this.
I quote - "could shave 3.5 percent off a runner's time."
Really? That sandal-looking thing? The sole profile is interesting... but there's a reason that running shoes have a "structured" upper, no matter how light, and they always will, because it's about energy transfer. Or just run barefoot. And when you're dealing with a 205 lb. muscle-man, with a lot of the weight in huge legs, can you really think 1 oz. makes any difference?
Maybe you guys just aren't jocks, or don't know what 3.5 percent means in terms of running performance. But this is ridiculous, will end up in the archives of dumb articles.
They look awesome and painful at the same time!
Sooooo, exactly how much does these placibo rabbit feet shoes cost, hmmm?!
When I was 4 years old, me and my friends would tie a towel around our necks and run around the back yard, believing we were flying like superman!
WoWzers, the magical power of belief! SHAZAM!;)
Besides, this is suppose to be a competition on skill, not exotic technology. We might as well just give the athlete's some drugs to enhance performance, sheesh.....
chrishova, you must have read a different article than I. This is obviously a sprinters shoe and the article says so. No distance runner could wear this shoe in competition. Sprinters run on the balls of their feet with no contact between the shoe heel and the track. Distance runners 'roll' through their stride (heel makes first contact with the track and their weight 'rolls' smoothly forward through the ball of the foot.
The shoe would only have to last one race. A new pair could be printed easily, with minor adjustments for the track surface and location (indoors or outdoors) being made incorporated on the fly - no pun intended.
3.5% is NOT that big of a number when the basis is 9.84 seconds. we're talking about 3/10ths of a second in a race where the slightest lag out of the starting blocks to avoid a foul can lose a race.
murphy, the point of the article is to showcase 3D printing in a setting where performance is everything. My background is in both sprints on foot and on bicycle. It IS
possible for the shoe to cut times by .3 seconds, but that does not mean every runner would benefit from racing in this shoe. It is designed for world class competitors. It will NOT turn a 10 flat 100 meter sprinter into a world record holder.
"We might as well just give the athlete's some drugs to enhance performance, sheesh....."
Giving drugs!! What a novel idea! It surely has never been done.
There must be others here which would be interested in another Olympic event where the main point is to compete with as much technology as possible, be it material like prostheses, chemical; drugs, or genetic; increased muscle mass or twitch, etc. Can think of plenty of ideas!
It would be difficult to regulate, and unsafe for the athletes to say the least, but it would finally convince me to watch the Olympics :P
It would also drive innovation. Currently, the defense and security industries/ governments, mostly the USA, are at the forefront of cutting edge tech like this. Perhaps competitive sport could also play a role!
Sloppy. As called out by other commenters, there's no verification or mention of how that 3.5 percent figure was calculated. And, use of the word could is vague, at best. Also, Bolt runs for Puma not adidas.
doitbetternow, 3.5% IS a big number in terms of the 100m. If Usain Bolt dropped another 0.3s on his 100m, it would easily be the greatest track race of the decade.
I'm well aware that no long distance runner would wear track spikes (and few long distance runners heel-strike either, but that's a different topic), I'm just pointing out the quantitative garbage you have presented. You've pulled a number out of thin air, and I was simply pointing out how sloppy your statistic was by introducing a simple variable, distance.
This article slants heavily on the Popular side and does its best to avoid the Science side. Very poor.
I am a special olympic runner.... I wear pretty shoes and fairy dust sprinkels behind me as I run, la la la la....
If Tina Turner were to make the olympic games, this would be her shoe......
What color socks would you wear with them?