The self-repairing sole is a dynamic solution to an everyday problem.
The ‘proto-sole’ is suitable for all footwear ranging from mainstream consumer trainers to haute couture footwear. It consists of a fluid reservoir, like a bubble, which is situated in the heel of the shoe, where the ingredients to make the active agents ‘protocells’ are pumped by the foot and mixed on demand as they leave the storage vessel. The newly formed protocells move through the spongy sole of the shoe where they are delivered to and activated at sites of wear and tear.
Protocells are a form of organic hardware that is not technically ‘alive’ since they do not possess any DNA. Yet they are capable of life-like behaviour that draws from the self-organizing potential of their ingredients. In keeping with Stuart Kauffman’s notion of ‘order for free,’ the protocells are equipped with remarkable, emergent properties such as, movement, sensitivity and the production of microstructures.
Protocells can be chemically programmed, using the hardware as a storage vessel to distribute other chemistries over time, space and according to their context. The added chemicals can be thought of as protocell ‘software’. In the case of the proto-sole, substances are added that enable protocells to lay down repair substances that are activated by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which dissolves into the moist sole fabric. Abrasion of the shoe diverts the flow of protocells to the most active areas of the sole where a chemical reaction is activated to produce a solid layer.
Since protocells cannot (yet) self-replicate, a quick top-up of the chamber in the heel is possible by inserting a nozzle through a one-way valve in the heel and squeezing in replenishing fluid, which can be purchased from any supermarket. Refills are often found beside the salad dressing in the ‘food hall,’ rather than ‘household’ items, as their ingredients are classed and taxed as foodstuffs being made up of oil, water, and salt. They come in a number of varieties that offer a choice of sole substances that can be mixed and matched to consumer tastes: non-slip, extra-durable, heat-producing, gas-releasing for added comfort, scented, brightly coloured, or even glow-in-the-dark for those who wish to leave a trail of luminescent footprints behind them.
Proto-soles are at their earliest stages of product development but as protocell research progresses, protocell shoes will be capable of forms of material computing such as, being able to adapt to different terrains to provide new levels of shoe comfort with added functionality. Perhaps the ‘killer’ heel will no longer be the destroyer of knee joints but become an ungulate extension of them – one that we simply wouldn’t leave home without.
These shoes can be considered an example of ‘protocell shoe’ aesthetics. Designed and made by Michael Wihart.