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Why Your Next Shoes May Be Made Out of Bacteria

MIT Design Lab and Puma have teamed up for some futuristic, self-adapting footwear.

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BY Gael Cooper - 12 Jun 2018

Why Your Next Shoes May Be Made Out of Bacteria

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Think there's not a lot of room for innovation in running shoes? You may have gotten off on the wrong foot. Shoe company Puma and MIT Design Lab are working on new research in the field of biodesign to produce some items sounds like it wouldn't be out of place on Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. (Only he's the Six Billion Dollar Man now, because the price of bionics must keep up with the times.)

Biodesign uses living materials such as algae or bacteria to create products--inventing everything from a football jersey made from spider silk to a shoebox grown from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.

At Milan Design Week in April, MIT Design Lab and Puma presented four of their projects: a breathing shoe, a deep-learning insole, a microbially active T-shirt, and adaptive packaging.

If you're a runner, you may be most interested in the two shoe-related innovations. "The biologically active breathing shoe pushes the boundaries of biofabrication and enables personalized ventilation by growing its own air passageways that keep the foot cool," MIT Design Lab said in a statement. The shoes learn the heating pattern of the person wearing them and creates custom ventilation to make a unique shoe that fits the wearer's needs.

This shirt can change color according to the quality of the air


The deep-learning insoles can use bacteria to identify if the person wearing them is becoming tired. The bacteria reads the sweat of the wearer and can send a message to that person's smart device informing him or her of performance level and fatigue statistics. Sounds difficult, but apparently it's no sweat.

The microbially active Carbon Eaters T-shirt responds to environmental factors by changing its appearance and informing the user about air quality. Tiny buttons in the shirt respond to carbon in the air and can change color to indicate the air quality. (So if you don't like a design that looks like a batch of tiny multi-colored eyeballs--this isn't the shirt for you.)

And finally, the two groups are working on biodegradable adaptive packaging that can change its shape and structure to specifically fit the product for which its required.

Unfortunately, these products are only in development, with no information on when they'll ever even come to market.

But the collaboration intends to keep on running.

"As advances are made in materials science and electrical engineering, new products become possible," the project's website proclaims. "And the Design Lab team intends to create them."

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