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The Super Bowl in 3-D

4th Floor

Among the many reasons to be excited for Super Bowl XLVIII, non-Peyton Manning category, Nike will be debuting the Vapor Carbon Elite, their – and possibly the – fastest football cleat ever.  And while normally cleats are not something you’d expect your local library to fuss over, the 4th Floor is not your normal local library, and these cleats really are something special.

Using 3-D print technology, a process sometimes called additive manufacturing, Nike’s scientists have designed a shoe that helps eliminate the unintentional slippage which occurs between your foot and the ground while running. For many of us, of course, the difference between these and a normal pair of shoes would be fractional, but for a professional athlete? Well …

Not to sound like Nike salesmen, of course, it’s just that these cleats offer such a high profile example of how 3-D printing is changing the very nature of innovation. “Something like this would’ve normally taken us two to three years at least,” designer Shane Kohatsu explained in an #slide-id-394121">interview with Wired: “We did it in six months.”

There are much bigger problems in the world than inefficient footwear. There are even much bigger problems in football, frankly; speeding up the running backs certainly won’t prevent concussions. Once such a problem has been identified, though, the solvers’ ability to move from design to prototype to testing and back to redesign – what’s necessary to take the solution public – has been drastically altered, and for the better.

Cheaper prosthetics; stronger, lighter airplanes; more fuel-efficient vehicles: All achievable on a time scale that, ten years ago, would have been nothing short of miraculous. MIT named additive manufacturing one of the Top Ten Breakthrough Technologies of 2013, and, with CO.LAB’s 2014 Gig Tank focus, it’s poised to have an impact right here in Chattanooga.

Access to 3-D printing is one of the many things we’re proud to offer up on the 4th Floor. So tune in on Sunday to watch the Broncos and Seahawks, and pay attention to their shoes. Then come visit us on Monday and join the generation of innovators solving some of those bigger problems.