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Adidas Futurecraft Unveils Robotic Textile Tech for ‘Coded’ Sneaker Design

Adidas has found a new way to bring data in the shoe design equation, unveiling the Strung textile technology as part of its efforts to build out a new sneaker concept, the Futurecraft.Strung.

The Strung technology is a robotic textile and creation process enabling the Adidas Futurecraft team to input athlete data into the precision placement of each thread to create a lightweight knit upper that’s precisely fitted for support, flex and breathability—all within one piece of material. Futurecraft specifically analyzes the gait and strike pattern of athletes in motion to help determine where wearers need the most support.

Futurecraft can build and test different structures in the software before sending a chosen design to the Strung robot, which places each thread into a single composite with specific performance zones and properties. A Futurecraft.Strung running shoe weighs approximately 223 grams, while the Strung-designed upper weighs just roughly 27 grams.

Due to the robots that weave its upper from midsole to collar, Strung designers and engineers can run knitting simulations before building the shoe, ensuring support in high-wear areas and breathability in others.

Adidas Futurecraft Unveils 'Strung' Robotic Textile Sneaker Design Tech
The Strung robotics technology that teases the Futurecraft.Strung shoe to life. Adidas

Each Strung-developed shoe is blended together with a single-layer 360-degree weave constructed of more than 1,000 threads that works with the contours of the foot, where most knit shoes can only use horizontal or vertical lines.

It took two years of internal Adidas development to build out a machine that could replace thread winding by hand and integrate athlete data, before the company collaborated with digital design studio Kram/Weisshaar to accelerate the project.

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“We wanted to see how we as a team could interact with robotics and athlete data in a meaningful, creative way,” innovation designer Fionn Corcoran-Tadd, manager of mechanical engineering Benjamin Kleiman, footwear developer Ian Hennebery, and senior manager of future technology creation Clemens Dyckmans, part of the Strung team, wrote in a blog post.

“The process of creating and refining new Strung software, hardware and prototypes led to increased buy-in and more and more people joining as development became more complex,” they wrote. “The travel restrictions that came with the pandemic brought its own challenges, but we were able to navigate some of these and maximize our efficiency due to having connected Strung robots on three continents. This allowed upper designs to be sent on to each machine remotely, meaning refinement work was ongoing around the clock. “

The Futurecraft incubator has been a source for many footwear innovations within the Adidas ecosystem, including the circular Futurecraft.Loop series, with the Generation 2 sneaker pilot scheduled to launch commercially in Spring/Summer 2021.

Futurecraft shoes are designed with a 4D midsole that is actually 3D printed as a single-component design “precisely tuned for controlled energy return” based on years of athlete data. Adidas initially collaborated with digital manufacturer Carbon to develop the 4D technology, which used a digital light synthesis, which combines light and oxygen into a solid, supportive material by way of chemical curing, to create a cushioned, responsive, and light sole unit.

The Adidas Futurecraft team designed the Futurecraft.Strung as what it calls its “most data-informed textile” based on foot anatomy and athlete movement, and the company plans to make the first shoe available late 2021 to early 2022.

The ultimate aim is for the Strung robotics technology to be a cross-category platform that serves multiple sports, the company said.

As far as the concept design goes, the shoe is specifically created to provide a new experience of short-distance training runs at five meters per second or faster. Two Adidas runners were identified as experts in this run and provided both motion capture and ongoing feedback to support development.

The upper has a lightweight cocooned feel and fit, locking the heel to prevent slip, with stiffer and stronger red threads placed at the midfoot, toe-box and heel where the foot needs support, alongside suppler yellow threads in the forefoot for flexibility. These threads blend each of those features together within the material to provide precise fit and support through the gait cycle.

The midsole is a 4D lattice design featuring a new shape to cater for forefoot strikers. The heel has been minimized to remove weight and the rubber outsole is specifically engineered to provide traction where needed, resulting in an extremely minimalist midsole.

“Our material tech challenge was very clear—we wanted to make something where we could place the yarns in any direction, to go beyond what existing textile creation methods are capable of,” the authors wrote. “Getting that base Strung textile to work and function as we want is and will continue to be a challenge. Strung is not knitting and it’s not weaving: it hasn’t existed before.”

The Strung weaving process in action.
The Strung textile technology process in action. Adidas

Adidas refers to the sneaker concept as its first “Coded” product, leveraging data to suit a specific athletic profile with minimal materials, which could mean other styles will also be created in future.

For now, the Strung project is still a work in progress in the early stages of development, Adidas said.

“The ongoing testing will be fundamental to what we do next, but more important than that is the trajectory of consumers and athletes—what do they want next and how are their needs changing?” the authors wrote.