Adidas to sell shoes with 3-D printed sole

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At a recent event in New York City, Adidas unveiled the Futurecraft 4D, a shoe it essentially chiseled by light.

Because while the first step is just to get to mass-production, Adidas eventually sees a future where everyone will be able to have their own 3D-printed shoe, with the midsole totally customized to their individual needs.

As for Digital Light Synthesis, it's a breakthrough process pioneered by Carbon, which uses digital light projection, oxygen-permeable optics and programmable liquid resins to generate high-performance, durable polymeric products. (UnderArmor also launched a 3D-printed shoe previous year, but only made 96 pairs.) The available 3D-printing technology wasn't able to produce midsoles fast enough, with the right physical properties, or at scale. Currently, when a brand makes a mass-market shoe, millions are produced for one type of foot, no matter the weight or dimensions of the consumer. And they aim to further reduce print time to 20 minutes.

Carbon has been tasked with creating the midsoles of the Adidas' footwear - the layer of spongy, shock-absorbing material between the inner and outer soles of the shoe. But few 3D printed shoes are widely available yet.

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The technology also allows for faster, more complete prototyping. The shoe is a huge improvement on their last 3D-printed runners, which were more of a concept than an actual product. To start, it expects to release 5,000 pairs this year, and more than 100,000 by the end of 2018.

Adidas did not specify how much each pair will cost, but said they would be marketed at a "premium price". (Which is surprising, because we thought 3D printed shoes were a new thing.) Instead, Carbon and Adidas say they are "bringing additive manufacturing in the sport industry into a new dimension" with the Digital Light Synthesis 3D printing process.

What makes all this possible is the 3D-printing process created by Adidas' partner in the venture, Carbon, whose investors include BMW, GE, and Nikon. By 3D printing both the design and the final product, Adidas can skip tooling on both ends.

But Adidas has teamed up with Carbon - a Silicon Valley startup - who use light-sensitive plastics in their 3D printing process which promise to overcome these limitations. Adidas calls it the "the first performance footwear crafted with light and oxygen".

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