Monday, 30 April 2012

Improving Flywire

To give a brief background to those less familiar with Flywire, it was invented by Jay Meschter, Director of Innovation at Nike, and debuted at the 2007 Athletics World Championships. Drawing inspiration from the mechanics of a suspension bridge whereby many cables provide the necessary structural support, Flywire allows support to be provided by fibers specifically to the areas that require it the most, namely the forefoot and the heel. Such a targeted support system avoids using layers of material to support the whole foot thus reducing the shoe’s net weight by up to 50%.

To best illustrate this fiber based architecture is by placing a light source within a shoe. In this case it was a Nike Hyperdunk. The striped and crisscrossed patterns clearly define the areas that require additional support for the athlete. The distribution of the fibers across the upper though based on the mechanics of a suspension bridge fail to capture the vertical linearity of said bridge. It’s visual similarity is far closer to the architecture of a dragonfly’s wing a natural design that could benefit the performance of Flywire further.

The various cellular shapes within a dragonfly’s wing carry the responsibility of determining the amount of stiffness or flexibility in that area of the wing whilst being as lightweight as possible. The somewhat randomized pattern is in fact optimized to allow rigid and flexible configurations along the span of the wings. For example the quadrilateral areas on the edges determine the more rigid and stiff portions of the wing while the largely compartmentalized hexagonal areas are responsible for the areas more likely to bend and sway. This same set of rules is applicable to the composition of a shoe.

The surface of a dragonfly’s wing can be interpreted as the single piece of fabric that would be used to cover the upper of a shoe. Integrating Flywire into this single sheet of fabric could allow for the exact same quadrilateral and hexagonal shapes to be created to reinforce the fabric in the same way it does for the dragonfly’s wing. By changing the vertically running lines to compartmentalized hexagonal cells would provided the same amount of support but increase the amount flexibility. The result would be a shoe that allowed the foot to move more naturally but with an increased level of support and protection. 

For such performance benefits the only conceivable compromise to be made would be in the aesthetic. The clean, simple and symmetrical lines on the current Hyperdunk would be replaced by a randomized collection of quadrilateral and hexagonal compartments. But by remaining with the dragonfly wings as the source of inspiration, the slightly more complex architectural details can be embellished with colour patterns as good as these:  

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