Chiseled by light, Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D could bring custom footwear to the masses

At a recent event in New York City, Adidas unveiled the Futurecraft 4D, a shoe it essentially chiseled by light. Created using an innovative manufacturing process known as Digital Light Synthesis (DLS), the German sportswear company teamed with Silicon Valley startup Carbon to produce what each hope to be a breakthrough in footwear. Though other sportswear companies utilize 3D printing to create running shoes — including Adidas itself — the Futurecraft 4D collaboration marks the first time anyone’s turned to DLS to make footwear.

Unlike additive 3D printing, Carbon’s proprietary CLIP technology leans on oxygen permeable optics, digital light projection, and programmable liquid resins to manufacture an object. To create the shoe, Carbon and Adidas projected light through a window in a pool of resin capable of instantly hardening via ultraviolet (UV) light. As UV images of the design project onto the resin, the material begins to take shape and solidify. Once this occurs, the team then bakes it in an oven to produce the finished, fully functional prototype.

With Futurecraft 4D, Adidas says it’s  “officially departing from 3D printing,” according to a press release. In the past, Adidas could only prototype the midsole of a shoe using 3D printing but still required the use of traditional molding and manufacturing to get the finished product. For its recent release, it combined DLS with 17 years of athlete running data to allow the company to customize even the most minute details of the shoe to fit perfectly. DLS allowed Adidas to create 50 fully functional prototypes while creating the Futurecraft 4D.

“Building a mold takes probably something like 35 days for one iteration. So, you can only have so many iterations. Here, we can make one iteration in a day, or sometimes two, or three,” Gerd Manz, Adidas’ vice president of technology innovation told Digital Trends.

Adidas ultimately desires a future where the average consumer simply emails Adidas their personal data to build them the perfect shoe

On hand at the announcement, Digital Trends had the opportunity to try Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D during the unveiling. As soon as we put it on, the elasticity of the intricately designed outer sole design is immediately noticeable in the heel. Even without running, it’s easy to feel the material almost push you forward when the heel of your foot presses on it. While running, the woven mesh upper allows for an enjoyable breeze to circulate throughout the shoe, helping cool off whoever’s wearing it.

To show off the technology in action, Olympic track and field athlete Tori Bowie tested out the Futurecraft shoes while simultaneously crafting her own.

“These [devices] on my feet will help me create my own shoes,” Bowie told Digital Trends while pointing at the two white Adidas devices latched onto her Futurecraft’s laces. “We get feedback from them on one of the iPads so we can create my own shoe.”

Manz says Adidas ultimately desires a future where the average consumer simply emails Adidas their personal data to build them the perfect shoe. As of now, Adidas has yet to officially announce how much the Futurecraft 4D intends to retail for. However, innovative advancements in technology such as this typically come at a price.

adidas futurecraft 4d digital light synthesis dsc 9245
Keith Nelson Jr./Digital Trends

“In every technology, at the beginning, you have a certain price tag,” Manz added. “For us, this will be a premium level offer. But, we are working very hard to bring it further and further down in cost and increase our volume, as well as the availability of the product.”

Adidas is planning to release around 5,000 pairs of the Futurecraft 4D commercially this fall and winter, with the hope of having roughly 100,000 pairs in the wild by the end of 2018.