THE WORLD GOT its first glimpse of the Nike Air Mag in 1989, when Marty McFly sported a pair in Back to the Future. In the intervening 27 years, there’s been plenty of speculation about when (and if) science fiction would ever become fact. Then, last fall, Nike casually dropped a bomb: Yes, power-lacing shoes were possible. In fact, not only were they possible, they were actually going to be something you and I could buy sometime in the near future.
It appears that the future is suddenly the present, because today Nike announced that its first pair of self-lacing shoes will be hitting stores later this year (price to be determined). The shoes are called HyperAdapt 1.0, and they’re a pleasantly elegant reimagining of McFly’s flashy high tops.
John Hoke, Nike’s vice president of design, explains that the shoe doesn’t use a traditional lacing system, but rather a battery-powered series of pulleys that cinch the throat of the shoe. When the wearer steps inside the shoe, sensors at the bottom register his or her weight and the position of the foot inside. “It reads if you’re heavy on your heel or heavy on your forefoot,” Hoke says.
Once the sensors get a read on your foot position, a series of tiny pulleys will contract the throat of the shoe tightly around the foot by winding thread around a spool. “Imagine a fishing rod,” Hoke says. The wearer can adjust the tightness by pushing on a plus or minus sign on the left side of the shoe. Hold it down for two seconds, and the shoe will loosen fully, allowing increased blood flow and removal. Eventually, Nike says it wants to make the micro-adjustments automated and reactive to biometric data, so they adjust on the fly.
Hoke says that, after a couple of wears, the shoe will automatically adjust to your preferred setting, much like a car seat that knows how close you like to sit to the wheel. As the “1.0” designation suggests, the team is already looking to how this technology can improve and adapt to create a hyper-personalized platform. He wouldn’t give much away, but Hoke did say that, eventually, you could imagine how your shoe might gather biometric data that can be fed into an entire adaptable, reactive ecosystem of Nike wearables. And by wearables we mean clothes.
It’s a compelling vision for sure, but as with all technology there are potential tradeoffs. Traditional laces are reliable—you’ll never have to worry about them running out of juice or malfunctioning during a pivotal moment. Any time a shoe’s functionality is tied directly to technology, there’s going to be a risk factor.
Nike says the shoes operate on a battery that will last for two weeks on a single charge. That’s the other catch. Yes, you’re gonna have to charge your shoes, just like you charge your phone and FitBit. But come on. It’s a small price to pay to wear a piece of the future, is it not?