Take A Look At These New AI-Designed 3D Printed Concept Sneakers By Nike

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Forget everything you thought you knew about sneakers because Nike just dropped a bombshell of a project. At a splashy event in Paris, Nike took the wraps off a collection of 13 shoe prototypes designed with the help of pro athletes and AI.

Dubbed the “A.I.R.” (Athlete Imagined Revolution) collection, the shoes feature some wild aesthetics and futuristic shoe design tech — including sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s sleek spike wrapped in a double helix-style fabric tunnel up the shin. Or the size 21 basketball kick for NBA rookie Victor Wembanyama adorned with a geometric fractal pattern inspired by bismuth crystals.

A small sampling of the hundreds of concepts created by a layered range of generative tools — all in a single afternoon. Image: Nike

The prototypes represent a radical new design approach that fuses insights from elite Nike athletes with generative AI tools and the latest in digital creation technology such as 3D printing and computational modelling.

“Our mastery of our generative tools allows us to hear athletes with a specificity that’s unmatched,” said John Hoke, Nike’s Chief Innovation Officer, in a media release. “We can obsess over a product, and AI becomes a creative co-conspirator with us.”

An early concept for Kenyan runner Faith Kipyegon. Some of the AI outputs from Kipyegon's listening sessions are featured above, inspired by her love for training in trail shoes, for traditional Kenyan artwork, and especially for her young daughter. Image: Nike

The process began with Nike’s designers interviewing their roster of sponsored professional athletes to understand their deepest needs, inspirations and visions for the perfect shoe. Those insights were then fed into AI systems to rapidly generate hundreds of conceptual designs and inspiration points.

From there, Nike’s human designers took over and refined those AI outputs through an iterative workflow of 3D modelling, prototyping and feedback sessions with the athletes. When marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge pointed out a flaw in an early prototype’s heel based on his trail running experience, the team was able to quickly change course.

The result was the 13 hyper-advanced prototypes that deftly blend elements of fantasy and pragmatism. 

An early concept for basketball player A'ja Wilson. The AI outputs featured above were inspired by Wilson's goals in helping ignite her team, leading to special interpretations of light, flow and rhythm. Image: Nike

For Mbappe, it was all about speed. “His design features full-length Air integrated through the underfoot plate for responsiveness, while the boot’s profile is inspired by the function of a track spike and the velocity of a fighter jet,” reads the release. “The traction underfoot is constructed for pure, linear speed.”

For Sam Kerr, serious air and bounce was paramount — “especially when she launches into one of her rare backflips, a playful celebration that inspired her design. The heel and forefoot feature big, bold, exposed Air units across the plate. Micro-textures across the forefoot are designed with the idea to help her control the ball, while an upside-down Swoosh runs across the collar.”

The A.I.R. collection showcases the cutting edge of Nike’s digital product creation capabilities, from its rapid prototyping facilities to machines that can mould never-before-seen Air units. But it also represents a new frontier in the brand’s relationship with its innovative tools.

An early concept for tennis player Zheng Qinwen. The placement of Air throughout the upper was inspired by the effusive joy that Qinwen brings on and off the court, while the AI outputs featured above were shaped by emotions like happiness and playfulness. Image: Nike

“There’s no going back,” Hoke says. “Form and function — meet fantasy.”

While the shoes won’t actually be released (sad, I know), their design process hints at the future of how Nike will create performance footwear tailored to the most elite athletes.

Check out the entire collection below.