MIT’s experimental 3D-printed sneaker shape-shifts to your foot

By Alyssa
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Byline: Marc Bain


At the moment, 3D printing is still mostly about experimentation. While it hasn’t quite taken off to revolutionize the way consumer products are made just yet, it does offer a lot of exciting, innovative ideas, especially in the realm of sneakers.

MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, a group focused on research into “active” materials, is working in collaboration with product designers Christophe Guberan and Carlo Clopath on one of the most unique footwear possibilities involving 3D printing: It’s a shoe that can be “programmed” to match the contours of your foot.

Their Minimal Shoe, as they’ve dubbed it, is created in a unique process. They stretch out a textile and then 3D-print lines of plastic in varying layers and thicknesses on it—essentially, the structure of the shoe-to-be. Next they cut out the portions of the textile they want. Released from the original stretch, the textile will “jump” into a new shape according to the arrangement of the 3D-printed lines left on it. Hypothetically, you could either custom print a shoe for each wearer with just a few lines of extruded plastic, or you could make a nearly one-size-fits-all shoe, since the stretchy textile will conform to any given shape.


Skylar Tibbits, one of the directors of the lab and a research scientist in MIT’s architecture department, tells Quartz they’re investigating both possibilities, and that the “morphability” of the textile could make for a more comfortable and adaptable type of performance footwear.

The whole shoe wouldn’t have to be created with this method either. Just the upper could be, or portions of it, and then it could be attached to a more traditional sole. It’s also relatively easy to make, compared to 3D printing an entire sneaker.

“Imagine using active materials to produce one-size-fits-all shoes, adaptive fit, and self-forming manufacturing processes,” a statement by the lab says. “This technique would radically transform the production of footwear forever.

Although the shoe is still a work in progress, Tibbits told The Creator’s Project that a large sportswear company is currently interested in the process, though he isn’t certain what might come of it.

Actually, of all the consumer-goods industries exploring uses of 3D printing and customizable textiles, sneaker makers could well be among the first to bring products to a mass market. Adidas has already introduced a 3D-printed midsole that could give every customer the perfect fit, and Nike’s COO recently expressed his confidence that we’ll soon be able to 3D-print Nike sneakers at home or the nearby Nike store. Both have also shown an interest in finding new ways of manufacturing lightweight textiles that can stretch and contour to the wearer’s foot, as in the knit uppers that have been so popular for both.

The Self-Assembly Lab is working on other projects too, including materials that can transform in response to outside stimuli. So, for instance, something like sneaker laces that could tighten from heat or the energy of a small battery. Currently it’s collaborating with Airbus on creating a dynamic carbon-fiber component for the company’s airplane engines.

The Minimal Shoe in particular came about when the lab received an invite to design footwear for the “Life on Foot” exhibition at the Design Museum in London.

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Mobile data needs to get this much cheaper before most of the world can afford it

By Alyssa
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By: Joon Ian Wong


Cloud computing and wireless communications are illustrated by streaks of colored lights flowing through a high altitude cloud cover.

Most of the world can’t afford mobile data at current prices. About 43% of the world’s population can afford 500 MB of mobile data a month right now. In order to double that number, data costs have to fall by 70% globally, according to a new study by Strategy&, a unit of the consulting firm PwC.

Here’s what that looks like charted in 14 countries:

The study, conducted for Facebook’s controversial initiative, which aims to provide internet access to currently unconnected populations, defines “affordable” as a prepaid data plan that allows up to 500 MB of use a month, and costing 5% or less of a person’s gross monthly income. Even those assumptions may be conservative. The average user in a rich country uses 630 MB of data a month, and that figure is kept low because of widespread availability of wifi networks, some of which are free. If WiFi use is taken into account, rich-country users eat up 2 GB of data monthly, according to the report.

What does 500MB of data get you? Every day, 800 plain-text emails, or 17 web pages, or eight minutes of video, according to a global study on internet connectivity published by in February.

The problem isn’t going away any time soon. Unlike the rich world, many emerging markets don’t have an infrastructure of wifi networks. If emerging market users behaved like their counterparts in wealthy markets, their mobile data consumption would also be as much as 2 GB, but would cost them considerably more given the lack of free wifi.

The solution, according to the report, is not rolling out more high-bandwidth mobile networks. That’s unlikely to work out economically. Instead, the authors advocate for quasi-public high-speed wifi points where users can periodically go to download data-heavy content, like videos.

YouTube’s smartphone apps in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia already have a feature that allows users to store and play back videos, even if their phones are offline. In Nigeria, a company called Kiora operates “content zones,” essentially a WiFi hotspot, where customers can download data-intensive content like movies.

The “content zone” example is just one way in which the internet of the future will develop quite differently for the next billion users. As the authors note: “The changes that will connect billions of the poorest to the Internet will also reshape it … as the global center of economic activity shifts to the South and to the East, so too will the norms that govern Internet usage.”


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