Auto-lacing shoes are here, finally. And pretty well right on schedule. Thirty years after Back to the Future II sold the world on the concept in a fictional 2015, a startup called Powerlace in St Hubert, Canada has created a shoe that's claimed will pave the way for a paradigm shift in the shoe industry. The company's system uses a pressure plate in the heel to tighten shoes and a level at the lower rear end to release them, with an adjustment puller near the tongue.
"I always hated to tie my shoes," Powerlace co-founder Frederick Labbé tells Gizmag. He thought there had to be a better, more efficient way to do it, and seven years ago started tinkering with ideas. Two years ago he met his Powerlace business partners, and they've since been working full time on the project together.
"We had to study the traditional [methods] of shoe manufacturing and find a way to implement our technology in the process," he says.
They went through dozens of prototypes, starting with existing shoes that they modified and then later building their own from scratch. "The most important thing for us was to have a simple and effective system," Labbé says. "We did not want batteries, motors, or any unnecessary weight."
Eventually the developers settled on the current system, which uses highly-resistant cables to hold your foot in the shoe. Inserting your foot triggers the mechanism, which locks into place at a tension level set by a pull tab on the outside upper section. The tension in the laces can be adjusted separately, too, by moving the lace lock.
A thermo polyurethane sole serves as support for the mechanism as well as anchor for the lever that unlocks the mechanism, while the tongue opens right out once pressure is released from the laces.
The team has tested the system up to 200,000 lacing cycles, which if it stands up to real-world use would mean the mechanism could operate without a hitch for 68 years if used four times a day – surely much longer than the rest of the shoe would last (I know I'm lucky if I can get two years daily use out of my shoes before they fall apart).
Powerlace is running a 60-day Kickstarter campaign to fund a production run of a men's running shoe design, with US sizes ranging from 8-12 and four colors (orange, blue, green, gray) available. If successful, the shoes are expected to be ready by May 2015. Early bird pledges of CAD 175 will net you one pair of shoes, with the normal price at CAD 195.
Women and children's sizes and alternative designs are on the cards for the future, but Labbé says the team first wants to get this men's model off the ground.
We should note that these are not true "power laces" as envisioned by Back to the Future II when Marty McFly puts on shoes that automatically fit to his feet. But it's the closest you'll get for now – at least until Nike makes good on designer Tinker Hatfield's statement in February that power laces would indeed hit next year.
Check out the Kickstarter pitch video below to see the Powerlace shoe in action.