Nike is patenting a machine that will make its most popular shoe fit better

FlyknitAchmad Soerio Hutomo/FlickrNike’s Flyknit sneakers.

Nike’s Flyknit sneakers are wildly popular worldwide — the franchise is expected to bring in $1 billion a year in revenue this year, according to Forbes.

Now, the company appears to be developing a machine that will make the shoes fit even better.

Called the “Portable Steaming System for Articles of Footwear,” the device uses steam to customise how a pair of Flyknits fit an individual owner. On September 22, Nike filed a patent application for the machine with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent’s illustration basically looks like a steam monster engulfing a pair of sneakers:

Nike machine 2US Patent and Trademark OfficeAn illustration of Nike’s the ‘Portable Steaming System for Articles of Footwear.’

Flyknits are unlike other Nike sneakers because the upper part (which wraps around the top and sides of the foot) is made of woven yarn and other fibres. The soft, stretchy material is designed to mimic the feel of a sock, offering a snug fit that can go nearly unnoticed by the wearer. The sneakers debuted in 2012 and now r
etail for $130 to $270, depending on the model (Nike offers over 190 different pairs on its site). 

According to Nike’s patent application, the portable steaming system was invented by Bryan Farris, one of the company’s Portland-based shoe developers. The customer puts on their Flyknits immediately after the hot steam has hit the yarn material, causing the fabric to shrink and offer a more snug fit. Each shoe can be customised to accommodate any differences between your right and left foot as well.

The machine resembles a device unveiled by Nike in 2013. A GIF from a video produced by The Next Web (below) shows a Nike worker placing the shoes in a black metal box, where they are steamed for about 30 seconds. The shoes’ owner then puts them on so the shoes can mould to their feet.

The machine was available in Nike’s London and New York City flagship stores for a limited time in 2013. When customers bought a pair of Flyknits, they could get them steamed for free.

Nike is also developing other sneaker innovations. At an event in March, the company introduced its “Back to the Future”-inspired HyperAdapt self-lacing shoe, which will become available at select US stores in late November (a year after protagonist Mart McFly wears them in the movie). This year, the company also unveiled its Vapormax sneakers, which feature a bubbly midsole that increases flexibility and bounce without compromising support.

These shoes, along with the new steaming machine, provide an intriguing glimpse into the future of sneaker technology.

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