The Octopus Inspired Basketball Shoe
If you’re willing to look, nature can offer up a treasure trove of inspiration.
In 1949, Mr. Kihachiro Onitsuka founded a footwear company in Kobe, Japan.
The first shoe he decided to develop was for basketball.
Known for its difficulty to manufacture, Onitsuka-san was eager to prove himself and his company.
One problem he encountered was how to make the shoe perform well for the particular demands of the game: players often need to stop suddenly, rotate quickly or accelerate hard.
This places considerable stress on the structure of the shoe as the recent on-court failure of a pair being worn by Duke University star Zion Williamson demonstrates.
It also means the sole requires a precise amount of grip - sticky but not too sticky.
The early prototypes he gave to players failed to achieve a good compromise between grip and manoeuvrability.
Onitsuka-san tried different approaches but the feedback he received made him realise he still had work to do.
Then, one day, as he was breaking for lunch, he noticed the suckers (used to grip objects underwater) of an octopus on his plate.
Could they be adapted to create the optimum sole design?
Back at the factory, he experimented with different sized dimples on the bottom of the shoe.
His initial efforts created too much grip but over time he adapted the design until he had the perfect pattern.
The shoe became a bestseller and helped the company to grow. It was later renamed ASICS and it remains one of the largest sportswear brands in the world today.
This octopus-inspired footwear is a great example of using nature as a tool for innovation.
Otherwise known as biomimicry, this field of study is often overlooked when we are faced with solving complex problems in the material world.
This is a mistake as the natural world is an experienced problem solver having performed countless experiments over billions of years of evolution.
What next? A flamingo-inspired high heel shoe perhaps?