adidas Futurecraft 4D

High performance footwear with a midsole crafted through a process employing light and oxygen

There’s a process known as Digital Light Synthesis, invented by the California-based technology firm Carbon—and it’s unlike any other employed in accessories. Here, a pool of responsive, dynamic resin rests on an optical member (more or less a piece of glass) with proprietary technology in it that let’s oxygen through. The resin on top of that member won’t cure. Hundreds of microns above, light strikes and hardens as if 3D-printing, while more resin filters below. An object is crafted as it’s pulled upward and out from the pool—light constricting it, oxygen nourishing it. What this means for adidas, and their impressive new Futurecraft 4D debut, is that you can build an entirely customized midsole very rapidly, by pulling it up—almost magically—from this resin. Yes, the idea of light and oxygen being utilized to build a shoe comes with a tech-oriented wow factor but there’s more here.

The adidas Futurecraft 4D is a world first. Taking this never-before-used technology, adidas developed a latticed midsole—with weave consistency varied throughout—based upon 17 years worth of running data. This offers a few benefits including the elimination of prototyping and moulding, a larger manufacturing scale at speeds not yet known. Even greater than this, however, is potential for large scale customization—not just for athletes. The ease of this process, and the steps it removes financially, mean adidas could take physical data from a specific consumer and build footwear specifically for their weight, height and foot structure. This was capable with traditional 3D-printing, but that process was timely, expensive and not really scalable.

Stepping back for a second, none of this would matter if the sneaker itself didn’t look and feel good. As far as the silhouette, it will appeal to anyone familiar with adidas futurecraft products to date. Regarding the feel, we’ve been testing a pair for a handful of hours and thus far the Primeknit upper offers the same amount of snug, playful comfort we’ve come to expect. Pressure on the midsole, however, delivers a welcome buoyancy to the heal, less so to the toes. It’s balanced. As for binging the visuals and the tech, Global Creative Director Paul Gaudio explains to CH that “you cannot really tease apart the visual and the functional.” He continues, “we like to build things in, not on. To me, the crazy thing about this is that you cannot actually draw this with a pen and pencil. No one sat down and sketched this. You start with the data-based lattice, which comes directly from ‘what do I need to build this up?'” A volume is created, based on need. Lattices populate that volume. “And what you’re left with is the look,” he says.

The outcome is a reflection of what’s been put into it here. Thankfully, it’s inline with what we’ve come to appreciate about the adidas aesthetics. “There are so many things that stand in way of custom footwear today,” Gaudio continues. “Now, the investment is in the athelete data, the measurement and the math—all going into what we produce. This is a digital shoe and we are currently in an analog world.” And that’s what makes this most valuable: this isn’t a shoe for athletes, collectors or people who need foot support. adidas thinks it can be for everyone.

Three hundred pairs of Futurecraft 4D are being released this April 2017, primarily for friends and family. 5000 plus pairs will hit retail in Fall/Winter 2017. However, the brand hopes to produce more than 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018.

Images courtesy of adidas