In 1989, when Marty McFly said, “Power laces. Alright!” it set my mind on a roll. How cool would that be to simply slip my feet into shoes and the laces tie themselves up! Marty and Doc Brown had travelled all the way to where we are today – October 21, 2015 – and the sneakers predicted by this science fiction is now a reality.
Nike is celebrating Back to the Future Day by releasing self-lacing Nike Mag sneakers which are going on sale via auction in Spring 2016. The proceeds will go towards The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. MichaelJFox.org tweeted the picture of actor Michael J Fox( famous for his McFly role) wearing a pair of the Nike Mag sneakers, which are identical to the futuristic footwear he sported in the film. The ’Nike Mag’ use a system that automatically tightens the laces in the lower part of the shoe, around the foot, and also constricts a strap in the upper part, around the ankle. Michael J Fox later appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and demonstrated new Nike Mags. He pushes down on the heel part to tighten the straps/laces and buttons provided back of the shoe are used to control it further. Green button tightens it more, red button releases/loosens the straps and yellow button turns on the lights.
Tinker Hatfield created the sneakers as a prop for Back to the Future II in 1989 featuring self-lacing and lights. Now, Tinker Haven Hatfield is the designer of many of Nike’s most popular and innovative athletic shoe designs, including the Air Jordan 3 through Air Jordan 15 and has around 245 patents related to footwear. Hatfield and Nike were granted the patent for self-tying shoe technology. But what’s piqued my interest is the patent on self-tying shoe laces.
There are almost 200-300 patents on footwear lacing systems by different assignees. However the leading patent holders are Nike and Boa technology. Other footwear manufacturing companies such as Timberland, Puma, Reebok, Adidas also hold few patents in this area. There existed patents (US 6691433, US 7752774) on the technology related to automatic tightening / power lacing by individual inventors even before Nike had filed any patents in this technology.
But with Nike being the hero of the self tying shoe lace in the film, and now that the company has decided to auction a product with this technology in January 2016, I looked up the mechanism as described in Nike’s patents US 8769844, US 8046937 – pretty much in sync with Back to the Future Day. Basically, each shoe contains a motorized system where the laces and straps are tightened by winding them around spools.
Tightening of shoe is automatically done by the self-lacing system 122 and ankle cinching system 124. The automatic lacing system 122 and ankle cinching system 124 could be activated using either sensor which detects the presence of a foot or user control systems such as button. The self-lacing system 122 includes a motor 1230 disposed in the cavity of sole. Motor 1230 can receive power from internal battery 1299 and the motor is connected to driveshaft 1232 to provide torque for rotating driveshaft. Further, driveshaft 1232 may include one or more gears (1240, 1242) for transferring power to strap set 115. Once the motor is activated by the input from sensors/control systems it rotates the driveshaft and gears which further transfer the power to belts and yoke members associated with the strap set/laces and enables tightening strap set.
Ankle cinching system 124 when in an open position, ankle strap 150 is generally loose. When Strap moving mechanism is activated the ankle strap (150) is tightened by using a coil spring wrapped around a shaft. The automatic lacing system 122 and ankle cinching system 124 can be loosened by user either manually or by pressing a button 1004 (Fig 10) which activates motor to operate in reverse direction.
(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nike_laces_(6601786031).jpg)