Puma x MIT: Biodesign for Sports Products
A research project led by Puma and the MIT Design Lab in the US explores how biological design could be used to produce the next generation of sports apparel, footwear and wearables. It investigates how living materials such as algae or bacteria can respond in real time to enhance the performance of both products and athletes.
Presented as an exhibition at Milan Design Week 2018, the Puma Biodesign research focused on four experiments: a ‘breathing’ shoe, a ‘learning’ insole, pollution-monitoring wearables and adaptive packaging.
- The Breathing Shoe: Made from a biodegradable material and featuring a pattern of cavities filled with bacteria and gelatinous matter, this sports shoe’s upper grows its own air passageways to enable personalised ventilation. In response to heat generated by the wearer’s feet, the bacteria consume the gelatinous substance, altering the surface of the shoe. Over time, each shoe adopts a unique look that’s based on the activity profile of its user.
- Deep Learning Insoles: This silicone-based disposable insole improves athletes’ performance by incorporating microbial cultures that provide real-time biofeedback.
The microorganisms detect chemicals in the skin and sweat that indicate fatigue and wellbeing, and respond by outputting specific pH and conductivity changes. These biochemical changes are then registered by a layer of electrical circuits and broadcasted to a smart device via microcontrollers. The data captured from the insoles can be used to track activity patterns and build long-term models of user activity that help to inform the user about their fatigue before it happens.
- Carbon Eaters: These “microbially active” wearable stickers called Carbon Eaters change colour in response to carbon dioxide in the environment, informing the wearer about air quality while they’re participating in sport outside.
Made using algae that changes colour as it absorbs CO2, the stickers turn from dark yellow-brown to bright purple. The brighter the shade of purple, the poorer the air quality. See pH-Responsive T-Shirts for more on visualising pollution, and Living Colour: Dyeing with Bacteria to explore colour-producing bacteria.
- Adaptive Packaging: The research also looked beyond wearables, developing a living, biodegradable material for packaging. It’s biologically programmed to inflate on demand using heat, allowing it to change shape and structure to adapt to the product within.
The packaging is made using a biodegradable elastomer and two types of microorganisms: yeast that produces carbon dioxide to inflate air sacs within the packaging walls, and genetically modified bacteria that deflate the packaging over time by degrading the material. It can be designed for short- or long-term use by timing the degradation process using chemical inhibitors that are printed onto the material.
See Evoware: Packaging You Can Eat and Packaging Futures: Sustainability for more on biomaterial packaging solutions.