An EU-funded research project, ShopInstantShoe, has built a technology to personalise fashionable shoes for consumers using memory shape materials. The system, which can be used for any footwear, molds the size, shape and design of the shoe based on the exact size of the consumer's foot.
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As well as the comfort factor, ShopInstantShoe technology also aims to prevent foot disorders like bunions, which affect one in five women, and others such as hammertoes (deformities that make the joints of middle three toes bend and swell) and ingrown toenails. Most of these are caused by the prolonged use of ill-fitting shoes.
“Foot geometry varies widely, so it is difficult to ensure good fits for everyone with just standard shoes,” says Giuseppe Caprara, the Innovation Manager at the Institute of Biomechanics of Valencia (Spain), ShopInstantShoe’s project coordinator. “Our technology uses new shape memory material to ensure fashionable shoes that are fully ergonomic, comfortable, innovative and personalised,” adds Caprara.
How does the system work? It would apply to any shoes with uppers made from a material developed for the project, a composite of leather fibres and filaments of the shape-memory alloy Nitinol. When a customer turns up at the shoe store, their feet would be measured with a portable scanner and processed by a special machine, called Shoptool. The chosen shoes would be placed in this machine, which would mold the uppers to the shape of the feet, using the supplied data. The altered Nitinol would allow them to hold this shape indefinitely.
“The process, from the anthropometric feet measurement and shoe customisation to the quick walking test, takes less than ten minutes,” explains Caprara. Even if the customer decides not to buy the modified shoe, it can be remolded into its exact former state. “Our technology should work with any type of shoe or brand, because the innovation in shoe design is given by the memory shape material composite which can be adapted to any aesthetics or design,” he says.
According to the project team the system could also help the European footwear industry exploit new technologies as it competes on the world market, targeting higher added-value applications in areas such as new materials and composites.
Although the project is currently concentrating on women’s shoes - they are particularly prone to foot problems caused by ill-fitting shoes – it expects to have a male version soon.
“The idea is that no-one should be denied the shoe they want just because their foot is a non-standard shape,” says Caprara. “ShopInstantShoe means you can guarantee footwear functionality and comfort even for the trendiest shoes,” he concludes.
ShopInstantShoe's memory shape material composite technology is already available, and the consortium is now testing various prototypes in different sizes and shapes. The aim is to have the final product available in shops within two or three years.
The ShopInstantShoe project gathered seven companies and institutions from Spain, France and the UK and ran until February 2012.