Tech

Nike has made its first ever hands-free shoe… with a hinge

We live in a world of convenience. One where waiting more than a split second for Face ID is beyond tolerable, children can’t be bothered to read anymore and you can get toothpaste on Deliveroo.

Considering this, we should not be in the least surprised that Nike, convinced the task of putting on shoes is a bind, has, after “three years of hard development”, created the GO FlyEase. It’s a lifestyle sneaker with an innovative bendy design that means we need never again stoop to don or remove our trainers.

The GO FlyEase has a hinge, or to put it more technically a bi-stable hinge – like the kind you get on ketchup lids – that remains fixed in two positions. This results, according to Nike, in the shoe being stable in both its fully open and fully closed states. Which is definitely a good thing, as one would not want the hinge springing unexpectedly into life while out on a jog or walking to get milk.

Nike has made its first ever hands-free shoe... with a hinge

This shapeshifting ability hinges on the GO FlyEase’s tensioner. The patent-pending design has a large rubber band that starts at the toe and wraps round the sneaker behind the heel to hold the shoe open and closed, snapping it into either position.

But the hinge and the tensioner are not the only elements Nike is lauding here. A kickstand heel supposedly “mimics the action many intuitively perform to kick off their shoes, but by design and without compromising the heel”. Also, a continuous underfoot “diving board”, not split half, has been added to maintain a stable footbed.

Nike says that the inspiration for its first ever “hands-free” shoe comes not from lazy Deliveroo fiends unwilling to tie laces (let alone use their joints willy nilly), but from a number of areas, including observations on how people instinctively kick off shoes when they get indoors; women in the final stages of pregnancy; parents attempting to hold children and bags while removing shoes; and even cultural differences in Asian countries such as Japan and the courtesy there of removing shoes frequently throughout the day. “In Asia it’s traditional to take off your shoes before you even get in the front door,” says Tobie Hatfield, senior director of athlete innovation at Nike. “My wife is from Taiwan, so I know that firsthand. I get told off a lot.”

Nike has made its first ever hands-free shoe... with a hinge

Whether or not you buy into these reasons for the GO FlyEase’s development, what Nike has done here is undoubtedly impressive, and considerable effort has clearly gone into the design of such a novel mechanism.

More than three years ago the GO FlyEase actually began life as a rough prototype submitted in an internal design challenge. “When Tim Hopkins [Nike principal innovation engineer] and Haley Toelle [designer in Nike’s Explore Team and NXT Lab] were working on this idea, I was just amazed. To take something that’s complicated but make it elegantly simple, and, for the wearer, intuitive. Those are at opposite ends – complex, simple – and in that’s the beauty of this. It takes a lot of iterations, it takes a lot of patience.”

The most difficult part of the GO FlyEase’s development? “If the team were here they would say, ‘What wasn’t difficult?’,” says Hatfield. “When I first saw the first prototype it shook me a little bit – and I’ve been doing this for a long time.” Hatfield joined Nike more than two decades ago, in 1990, helping launch the company’s first components and materials departments.

“Ultimately, the whole shoe was a challenge. You fix one thing and another might start not working. We’re used to this, but cause and effect was magnified a little bit more here because you’re literally breaking the shoe in half. We’ve just never done that before.”

Nike has made its first ever hands-free shoe... with a hinge

As for the durability, and longevity, of that hard-working hinge mechanism, Nike will only say that the shoe “underwent extensive testing, both on foot and mechanically”. Hatfield underlines though that the GO FlyEase passed all of Nike’s internal standards for shoes, apparel and equipment.

What is tantalising, however, is what the GO FlyEase means for future Nike products as Hatfield hopes it will inspire the Nike innovation team. “It’s hard to predict the future, but, frankly, I think our track record is pretty good,” he says.

“Not even everyone internally has tried the GO FlyEase. And so what it’s going to lead to is [our] people thinking about what’s next in the FlyEase portfolio. We obviously have some things launching in a year or two, but I’m excited as much about what I don’t know as the things I do. And the things that I know right now – that I’m not telling you today – are pretty cool. But the things after that are going to be even cooler.”

Jeremy White is WIRED’s executive editor. He tweets from @jeremywired

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