There’s no getting around the Back to the Future references for this one. A Nike designer recently claimed that the apparel company plans to eventually create and sell sneakers featuring self-tying shoelaces in 2015.
Tinker Hatfield, the designer of Nike’s McFly MAG sneaker, let slip during the 2014 All-Star Weekend festivities that he’s planning on revisiting the limited-edition style and finishing what he started. The original MAGs (with manual laces, obviously) were released back in 2011, but their design was inspired by a pair of electronic Nike high tops that Marty McFly, the time-traveling main character of Back To The Future (BTTF) II, discovers. The laces of the fictional Nike Air 2015s automatically tighten when McFly puts them on.
The often-outspoken Hatfield seems to want the release of his creation to coincide with the year BTTF was set in. The designer revealed his plans to Sole Collector at the Jordan Brand Flight Lab, which was held during the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities in New Orleans.
Despite how surprising (and exciting) the announcement is, the technology for power laces goes back a handful of years. We first heard of the idea when rumours spread in 2010 that Nike had applied for a patent for an “article of footwear with lighting system.” In fact, the patent application itself dates back to almost a year before news broke, Nov. 5, 2009.
The included illustration shows a familiar kick—quite possibly a crude, early prototype of the McFly MAGs—outfitted with what can only described as a gadget lifted directly from Marty McFly’s adventures. The picture clearly shows a cuff band and flat, sports-type laces, describing a system where a set of straps can be loosened or tightened. A separate band is described that controls tightness around the ankle. The patent abstract talks about a “lighting system” that is “associated with an automatic fastening system,” so there is a likelihood of visual indicators as well.
Around two years later, Hatfield’s MAGs dropped. Only 1,500 were made, and proceeds went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, a charity created by the actor who originally played Marty McFly. The shoes were auctioned off on eBay, raising a reported $6 million.
Unsurprisingly, the massive apparel corporation’s technological breakthrough has been preceded by the genius of individuals.
Using a simple Arduino microcontroller (an open-source development platform used to make neat interactive machines), an inventor from San Francisco has already cracked the code. Blake Bevin’s model is not much to look at right now, but her self-tying lace system is an exercise in simplicity.
It appears the laces are actually individual bands (rather than a single string), which might help even out the pressure as they tighten. When you put your foot into a shoe, a pressure sensor causes the device to tighten the laces. To get out of the shoes, all it takes is a touch of a switch at the back to loosen them. Bevin’s also thought of a useful feature: a sensor that makes sure the laces don’t get too tight. No loss of circulation here, folks.