Shoelaces are a pain. Their tendency to become impossibly tangled has led many a kid (and adult) to lust longingly after Marty McFly’s labor-saving MAG sneakers in Back to the Future Part II, but a real-world equivalent has so far proven elusive … until now. At a press event in New York yesterday, sportswear behemoth Nike announced it’ll bring the world’s first self-tying shoe to market. It’s called the HyperAdapt 1.0, and it’ll hit store shelves later this year.
The HyperAdapt’s far from your everyday pair of running shoes. There aren’t any laces in the traditional sense, but instead embedded actuators that, in tandem with pressure monitors, delicately conform the shoe’s cushions to your foot’s shape.
“When you step in, your heel will hit a sensor and the system will automatically tighten,” said Nike’s senior innovation chief and the project’s technical lead Tiffany Beers in a press release. From that baseline fit, you can fine-tune the shoe’s settings on the fly. “Then there are two buttons on the side to tighten and loose. You can adjust it until it’s perfect.”
The HyperAdapt’s the culmination of years of research, Nike said. They’re the brainchild of Tinker Hatfield, designer of Nike’s iconic Air Jordan and Air Max footwear lines, who began collaborating with Beers and Nike chief Mark Parker more than five years ago on shoes that could tighten themselves. The primary challenge? Miniaturizing the sophisticated electronics needed to power, drive, and control the shoes. Sneakers don’t give you much room to work with, Beers and Hatfield explained — creating footwear that could seamlessly blend into a conventional design was a daunting task.
The first experiment emerged in the form of snowboard boots. In 2009, Nike filed a patent for an “Automatic Lacing System” with a “clinching system” that tightens around the ankle, and in 2013 Hatfield and Beers began producing physical prototypes, performing trials with a number of systems before settling on one that tightens from the bottom of the shoe up. The tech made its first public debut on October 21 of last year, when Nike sent shoes outfitted with the tech to Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox. “We started creating something for fiction and we turned it into fact, inventing a new technology that will benefit all athletes,” Parker said at the time.
The HyperAdapt 1.0, a more more “technical” version than last year’s model and closer to the “sport” style of the shoes that Hatflied and Beers had originally envisioned, mark the self-tying technology’s first consumer debut. Beers says the shoes, in addition to eliminating the “slippage” and “pressure” problems associated with laces, pose a breakthrough solution for athletes’ ever-changing fitting needs. [They’re] an important step, because feet undergo an incredible amount of stress during competition.”
Some might be put off by the HyperAdapt’s aesthetics, which include a bright, glowing light on the shoe’s underside that act as a wireless charging point and indicate its charge level. But Hatfield implies that they won’t be the last self-fitting sneakers we see from Nike. “It’s a platform, something that helps envision a world in which product changes as the athlete changes,” he said in a statement.
The HyperAdapt 1.0 will be made available in three colors and exclusively to members of Nike+, the company’s eponymous fitness app, starting “Holiday 2016.”