People love their shoes. Yes, they protect and give comfort to our feet, but come on. The right pair just looks awesome. But when you think about it, we usually don't have a lot of say in how our shoes turn out. Sure, we can choose a pair that we like in a store. But it's the designers and shoe companies choosing what those shoes will look like. What would you say to the idea that you could customize your shoes to your own personality? Well, the arrival of 3D printing—the technology that allows computer to "print" three-dimensional objects—is starting to make that a reality.
Let me print that for you
New companies, called "startups", are exploring all of the things that 3D printers can do. And it turns out that they can do quite a lot more than you might think. A 3D printer can make the body of a car, or be used to prepare custom objects in space on demand (now that's handy if you need an extra part while in orbit!). People are even using them to prepare a meal—yep, you read that right!
But these things are all pretty specialized. And let's face it. Printing yourself dinner isn't likely to overtake restaurants and grocery stores any time soon. But a few companies are looking at everyday items like shoes as a perfect place for 3D printing to really make a breakthrough. Why?
The perfect fit
Because 3D printers allow for customization—in other words, making something just for you.
After all, what is the most frustrating thing about shoe shopping? Finding your size is definitely up there, right? Even if you know your size, human feet are often imperfect matches (this writer, for example, has a right foot that is slightly wider than the left one). Then there is the fact that even if you know your size, every shoe manufacturer and style treats that size a little bit differently. So you need to try a pair on. And another. And another.
Now what if you could measure your feet precisely and a 3D printer would make you a pair of shoes from start to finish that was exactly designed for your weird and wonderful feet? Great idea!
Is the future already here?
It's early, but startup companies like Feetz out of San Diego are already doing this. The woman behind it is Lucy Beard. She thinks that soon, all shoes will be made and bought this way. "In 10 years you won't physically try on a pair of shoes," she told the New York Times.
Many experts even believe that for things like shoes and clothes, that one day we'll simply buy kits and programs and just print the products at home ourselves! Incredible stuff, but we have just one question: if we print all of our goods at home, are we still hanging out at the mall this weekend?