Self tying? Self Opening!
This is a ongoing project. 

In the spring semester of my senior year in the Industrial Design department, I am taking a course call "Smart Matters" instructed by Peter Yeadon, founder of Yeadon Space Agency in NYC. The course revolves around smart materials on the market or still being developed, aiming to create new solution to problems or scenarios.

We are currently exploring the material SMA--Shape Memory Alloy, which is a kind of metal composed with Titanium and Nickel atoms. This type of alloy is often referred as muscle wire, or nitinol, flexinol, etc. It has the property of reshape into the form it "remembers" in certain thermo conditions. For example, with the specific wire I was testing, in regular room temperature, it can be bent into any shape, and can be stretched 5% more of its length. Once it reached the temperature of 70°C in any way, it would want to return to its shape (to be straight, or to shrink, or to coil if the remembered shape is a spring form).
Example of SMA.
With the passion in soft goods I jumped into experimenting SMA with soft materials such as leather and foam. 
SMA in straight wire form didn't provide that much movement length-wise, but can be utilized with its ability to crumble or fold soft materials. In the third video, a coil-shaped SMA is stretched and wrapped in a piece of foam, which when conducted to current, shrunk quite a bit, which grabbed my attention to the possibilities it could lead to.

SHOE! I want to employ this material in a shoe, but in what context? And to solve what? The first thought was using the property of the wire for self-lacing. It led me to the research on self-lacing shoes, then to adaptive shoes, then to shoes for people with disability. 

Damn! There is a lot of problems going on in the subject. 
Thus, adaptive shoes for people with disabilities became my main topic of research. 
3 Insights :

Putting on clothes is a problem that people with disability have to deal with everyday. Especially shoes are among the hardest to conquer. The shoes have to be ease to access, be easily put on and taken off independently by the users. "Enclothed Cognition" is a term referred to the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes. Not being able to put on the shoe by oneself could be devastating on the user experience and the user's self esteem. 

Smart, innovative assistive system and feature needs to be applied to the shoe as a workaround to current fastening methods to aid people putting them on. 

One of the biggest problem on adaptive footwear on the current market--ugliness. Whats now available are usually bulky and bland in an unattractive way. All people equally deserve the freedom and choices to dress in style. 
Isn't it pretty ironic and ridiculous that the left is what's available for people with the needs and the right is what the fashion market provides for hypebeasts?
Even with the most advanced smart and adaptive footwear on the market, there are still existing issues that are not fully considered. For example, to actually put the feet in, they assume people can easily touch their heels, or to stick their fingers into the shoe in order to slide the feet in. Also a lot of them are not compatible with orthotic devices which can be quite bulky and resides on different locations. Even with Nike's Flyease, the velcro-zipper-elastic system still requires a certain level of hand, wrist, finger movement and dexterity, which are actually still challenging for some people. 

All these insights and thoughts urges me to attempt a shoe that's truly accessible, that truly have the ease to put on and take off independently, maybe totally hand-free if possible, and are truly designed to be fashionable. 

Lots of the smart shoes focus to solve the tightening issue, which actually made me question the legitimacy of the solutions. indeed, self-closing is a right direction, because tightening the shoe is indeed the hardest step. But does it have to be the step that we invest all our smart devices and technology in? If we think about it in an opposite way, what if we employ a simple method(not even a mechanism) to tight the shoe, but design a system to use smart device to open up the shoe?
Some preliminary sketches to apply SMA spring for self-opening. 
What if the counter or the shoe tongue is "detached" to the rest of the upper, and are connected to the upper with elastics?  A part with a SMA spring(similar to my earlier foam experiment) links to the upper, so when activated, the spring coils and shrink to pull down the counter, making room for user to put their feet in like a pair of slippers. After then, SMA spring is deactivated, the elastic pulls up the counter, which pulls the spring back to its unwinded state. Feet are secured and shoes are put on, without even using hands or any help.
More detailed, explained drawing. 

I love this pair of collab, but if the piece in the back can be there just to look cool, why can't it be there for good, and to look cool?

To be continued. 
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