MIT Designers 3D Print Wearer-Reactive Footwear

by Willy Matsiri on December 2, 2015

3D Printed Reactive MaterialsAs 3D printing technology continues to touch various aspects of our lives, it’s exciting to know that the Fashion Industry hasn’t been left behind.

After all, don’t we all like putting on something outright trendy every once in a while? Over the years, the world of fashion has had some major shifts thanks to 3D printing.

The concept of a 3D printed reactive wearable started in 2014, when Paola Tognazzi decided to take the wearable technology to a whole new level. She wanted to take people beyond just carrying technology or tech gadgets such as Smartphones and iPads to wearing tech garments that gave humans a more intimate relationship with technology.

Paola had found a creative and innovative way of interweaving technology into clothes and garments thus making it possible to carry technology everywhere you go while at the same time putting on stylish attire that you love.

She wasn’t about to stop there, Paola went ahead and now brought 3D printing into the equation which made things even better. 3D printing made the garments shape shift and practically react to the body movements of the wearer creating a pretty cool spectacle. With these kinds of wearables, the wearer actually plays a part in determining the design of the shape, as the wearable changes form to accommodate the physical movement of the wearer. In doing this, the personal dynamics of the wearer are fully accommodated by the wearable.

In her designs, the movement of the wearer changed the thickness, volume and the structural properties of the 3D printed material used. Generally, in many ways her wearable designs were able to connect to the dynamics of a wearer’s body movements both while in motion and at stationary postures. The overall effect was stunning to say the least.

The Minimal Shoe

Fast forward to 2015, two MIT industrial designers, Christophe Guberan and Carlo Clopath; have pushed the boundaries of the wearable reactive technology even further. Together with the help of a computer scientist, Skylar Tibbits (we wrote about him here regarding his 4D Printing Research), they have designed a shape shifting shoe using 3D printing that they called ‘Minimal Shoe’. Their 3D printed footwear, literally changes its shape responding to stimuli from the wearer.

How did they do this? According to the three MIT makers, their first secret to creating the wearer reactive footwear was using FDM 3D Printing. They used a plastic material that they extruded onto stretched textiles. It is these textiles that are responsible for changing the physical form of the Minimal Shoe every time the stretched textiles are released by the activities of the foot of the wearer. Not only is this a new concept in the footwear category but also just like Paola’s designs; the reactive behaviour of the shoe makes them look adorable.

If you’re finding it tricky to visualise how they used 3D printing to make these shoes, this video demonstration will help…

The MIT team explains that initially the Projected Costs for making this shoe was off the charts. They also needed to use a lot of materials to make the designing of the shoe possible while still ensure that its design was fashionable and modern to appeal to the present day wearer. After spending some time evaluating their options, it became clear to the team that they needed to come up with better ideas if they were ever going to succeed in enabling their design to see the light of day.

There were two things that they needed to minimize: the use of excess materials and the funds for supporting the project. Fortunately, sooner or later they figured out that 3D printing the entire shoe was not only going to be inefficient but it was also going to take a lot of time. Right about then, it struck them that they could find traditional materials that the 3D printed materials will be added to.

So it was with this in mind that they chose to 3D print the upper part of the shoe by adding the 3D printed materials on leather and rubber, which would form the lower part of the shoe. This way, they could minimize the materials used and reduce the extent of 3D printing required; all of which would lower the costs of the project significantly.

Advanced Technologies? No Thanks

One of the intriguing facts about this project is that there are no such thing as Robotics, Electronics and sensors that have been utilized to create the Minimal Shoe. You see naturally, it would be assumed necessary to use advanced technologies such as robotics and motion sensors to design this type of footwear. However, thanks to the work of Christophe Guberan and his partner Carlo Clopath; it is clear that interactive garments can be brought to life without one really having to rely on advanced technologies.

Better yet, the duo have proved that 3D printing can do what previously would have been assumed only possible with the use advanced technologies because so far, the stretched textiles and 3D printed plastic materials have shown beyond doubt that they are powerful enough to take us wherever we want to go while fashionably transforming the shape of our footwear.

Customizations and Uniqueness

The MIT team has made it clear though that their design is yet to be totally complete. More and more research is still being done in order to find better ways of 3D printing the wearer-reactive footwear.

What the team has made clear is that although the Minimal shoe can be entirely manufactured through 3D printing, they will definitely incorporate the use of secondary materials like Rubber or leather in their designs because doing this gives more room for customizations. Any ordinary user will be interested in footwear that is perfectly tailor made to suit their personal tastes and preference, which is something the team does not take lightly.

Secondary materials add that little ‘spark’ in their design that would otherwise be missing if the whole shoe was to be 3D printed. What’s more, using secondary materials enables the team to reduce the need to use excessive materials which would be inexorable when 3D printing the whole shoe. In addition, it is also frugal for them to combine the use of secondary materials with 3D printed ones in their design. Find out more about 3D Printing in the Fashion Industry.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to Like and Share this article with your fashion conscious friends.

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