A new shoe by Adidas promises to relay runners’ vertical impact forces to power forward motions. Recently, the athletic giant, which unveiled the new 4DFWD, says it tested over 5 million possible lattice structures (the building blocks of its high-tech running midsole) in order to build a prototype. It eventually decided on a bowtie-shaped structure coded to compress upon impact, and propel runners ahead.
Though this is not Adidas’ first 3D-printed midsole, the German company claims the 4DFWD is unique in its ability to hack the bio-mechanical forces governing how athletes run.
Adidas says it studied more than 17 years of its athletes’ data to design the new sole, which can produce three times more forward motion than its previous 3D-printed midsoles, and lessens the peak braking force by up to 15 percent.
Adidas has a long history of experimenting with technology in its products. In 1984 the company put out a shoe called Micropacer that held a small computer to calculate distance, pace, and calories.
Recently the sports brand has used a robot to weave its shoes’ upper half, released a number of products made with recycled plastic, and briefly experimented with manufacturing running shoes in heavily-automated “Speedfactories,” that relied on robotic arms and computerized knitting.
But the sports brand is especially bullish on 3D-printed shoes and its ability to fine-tune midsoles to the personalized patterns of runner movement.
Although it began experimenting with 3D-printed shoes well before it partnered with Silicon Valley’s Carbon four years ago, the US startup’s “digital light synthesis” method of printing midsoles from a liquid-like material won Adidas over. One result of that collaboration is Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D, which advertises a 3D-printed sole “digitally engineered to infuse comfort into your every stride.”
Although Adidas isn’t the only athletic company sold on the promise of 3D-printing shoes—New Balance has also released a line of shoes with 3D-printed soles—it does claim to be one of the first to leverage 3D printing to keep testing new designs and turn “physics and bio-mechanic studies into performance solutions,” according to Adidas Senior Vice President Alberto Uncini Manganelli.
In the case of the 4DFWD, the shoe first went through a range of biomechanical testing procedures at the University of Calgary, before being tested by a select few Adidas athletes.
The final product comes equipped with a rubber outsole and a breathable upper, which is partly made from recycled polyester. The midsole is made from 39 percent bio-based 3D material, which Adidas says offers more cushioning. It will eventually be available in three different color schemes.
The company plans to slowly roll out the new shoes through the summer. A limited quantity of the 4DFWD launches in a black and red color combination beginning on May 15, and becomes more widely available beginning in July. Adidas also has a special Tokyo Collection in a different color scheme, which will be the main podium shoes for athletes at the Olympics this summer.