By Jake Woolf.
Adidas FutureCraft—the moonshot program started by the German sportswear giant in 2015—is back with a new innovation that Adidas hopes will change the sneaker industry forever. Previously, Adidas had unveiled concept car sneakers with 3D-printed soles, though the results were mixed—having tested the triple black FutureCraft runners from last year, we can safely say they weren't nearly as lightweight or comfortable as the regular Adidas Ultra Boost. Now, the brand has upped the ante in a big way, introducing a new partnership that will make their 3D-printed sole more than just for show.
Adidas teamed up with Carbon, a California-based company that describes itself as working "at the intersection of hardware, software, and molecular science." What that meant for Adidas was creating the first ever 3D printed soles for its sneakers that use a liquid polymer as opposed to the solid plastic used in previous versions.
The way it works is top-secret, and the videos Adidas released are laughably vague. But at last night's unveiling event, a Carbon employee (who requested anonymity when speaking to GQ) broke it down in not-quite-layman's terms for us like this: Starting with a liquid polyurethane (the stuff regular athletic shoe soles are made of), ultra violet light is projected through a proprietary piece of glass the way a movie projector puts an image on a screen or wall. The glass is special because it allows light through, but not oxygen, and when light hits the resin it hardens the plastic. Everything the light doesn't hit remains liquid, allowing a structure to be lifted from the liquid. Simple, right?
Where does the "4D" name come from? That part is still more of a dream than anything. One day, Adidas hopes to be able to use digital imaging technology to create custom soles on the spot for customers, meaning if you're 5'9" 170 and your friend is 6'2" 240, your two pair of sneakers will have a slightly different soles. Part of the advantage of using a liquid resin in place of a solid plastic is how fast the soles can be made (tens of minutes instead of hundreds), but for now, that kind of specific tuning is best belt in the fact that the back of the 4D sole is noticeably squishier than at the toe, a variance that isn't possible with current manufacturing practices.
Technical stuff aside, the sneakers are one of the most beautiful Adidas shoes we've ever seen, period. In fact, they're so nice to look at that they have an almost sculpture quality to them, making it kind of hard to imagine actually wearing them. Unfortunately, chances are you won't be able to, anyway—at least not for a few months. For now there are just 300 pairs of these kicks in the world, but Adidas has stated that a wider release of the Adidas Futurecraft 4D sneaker will debut later this year, though it will likely still be limited. So we're sure that for a lot of Adidas fans, the future really can't get here soon enough.
This story originally appeared on GQ.
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