Try walking a mile in these shoes, and all of Berlin’s public transportation will be at your feet — because these kicks double as a universal pass for all of the city’s public transport fleet throughout 2018.
The sneakers on Berlin’s distinctive upholstery. Image via Overkill shop.
Just two days ago, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG, Berlin’s transit authority) released its first-ever, limited-edition line of sneakers in a unique project. The shoes were manufactured by Adidas Originals and bear slivers of the city’s character which any Berliner will instantly recognize: the heel counters are tailored with the distinctive upholstery patterns installed on the city’s public transport vehicles, while their laces will be colored in Berlin’s subway colors — yellow and black.
Berlin’s subway upholstery was designed in a squiggly, multicolored, almost camouflage-like pattern to dissuade people from painting graffiti on it. Given the exuberance of color, it’s not surprising that this pattern will only cover a small portion of the new sneakers, lest anyone get dizzy. Combined with the black-and-yellow laces, however, and complemented by other small embellishments and the simple black-white pattern on the front of the shoe, the end result is quite appealing.
But the shoes’ true uniqueness comes from a tiny piece of fabric sewn in their tongues: a cloth version of BVG’s annual season ticket. And that’s because the city wants anyone wearing these sneakers to travel for free on any subway, tram, bus, or ferry anywhere within Berlin’s public transport zones A and B (which cover most of the city) throughout 2018.
Here BVG turned expectations on their heads. While an annual transit pass currently costs up to €728 ($869) for the same zones, the shoes are a comparative bargain at only €180 ($215) a pair. Pass and kicks for less than a traditional pass? Sold! However, the shoes will probably sell like hotcakes and BVG are keeping their numbers low — only 500 pairs will be available for sale at only two locations in Berlin.
That low price does seem to have a well-defined goal in mind — to counter the obvious inconvenience of having to wear the shoes whenever using public transport for the whole of 2018. Still, I imagine you can bring them along in a bag should you want to wear something else. Just make sure to bring both sneakers!
Right now, these 500 pairs of pass-shoes are hitting the pavement and the floors of public transport throughout Berlin. Time will tell how well they work and how much people appreciate the idea — if they do, we’re bound to see similar functional fashion projects pop up all over the world.
Students and researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego want to fix our plastic problem, one flip flop at a time. They’ve developed and produced the first algae-based, renewable flip flops in the world.
Image credits UC San Diego.
Their first prototypes, developed over the summer months in a York Hall chemistry lab, are pretty basic as far as flip flops go. They’re made of a flexible, spongy sole, a simple strap, and a trident logo. But between its projected cost of $3 per pair and carbon-neutral production process, they might just help change the world’s environments for the better.
Flip flops are the shoe on Earth. An estimated 3 billion of them find their way into waterways and the ocean each year, constituting a major plastic pollution source for marine environments. That’s because 3 billion petroleum-based flip flops are produced worldwide each year, eventually ending up as non-biodegradable trash in landfills, rivers, and oceans around the globe.
“These are the shoes of a fisherman and a farmer,” says Stephen Mayfield, UC San Diego professor of biology, who headed the research work alongside professor of chemistry and biochemistry Skip Pomeroy. “This is the No. 1 shoe in India, the No. 1 shoe in China and the No. 1 shoe in Africa. And, in fact, one of the largest pollutants in the ocean is polyurethane from flip flops and other shoes that have been washed or thrown into rivers and flow into the ocean.”
Two years ago, the two professors and their graduate and undergrad students developed the world’s first algae-sourced surfboard. Along with a local surfboard blank manufacturer, Arctic Foam of Oceanside, they developed a method to make algae oil hard enough to replace the polyurethane foam core in a surfboard, typically produced from petroleum. It was a big success among the surfing community, which was looking for more sustainable and eco-friendly way to construct boards.
Starting from that research, the duo wanted to expand. Surfboards were “the first obvious product to make” from algae, Mayfield says, but adds that “when you really look at the numbers you realize that making a flip flop or shoe sole like this is much more important.” Seeing the success algae-based foams enjoyed with the 500,000 or so boards sold around the world yearly, they decided to try the same approach for the billions of pairs of flip flops and other footwear that reach landfills (or worse, oceans) each year.
“Depending on how you do the chemistry, you can make hard foams or soft foams from algae oil,” Mayfield explains. “You can make algae-based, renewable surfboards, flip flops, polyurethane athletic shoes, car seats or even tires for your car.”
Mayfield and Pomeroy applied their idea, dubbed Triton Soles, for a $50,000 proof-of-concept grant. They received the funding via the Accelerating Innovations to Market program, initiated by UC San Diego’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization and paid for with the help of local elected officials through State Assembly Bill 2664. The goal of the bill is to bring more laboratory inventions from the campus to commercial development.
From research to retail
Along with Michael Burkart, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC San Diego, Mayfield and Pomeroy formed a startup company called Algenesis Materials. It employs some of the students working on the flip flops, offering them much-needed practical experience in a scientific project with real-world impact.
“Part of the challenge is that typically I’d make a discovery, publish a paper and that’s sort of the end of it,” Mayfield explains. “But the best invention that you keep inside the lab really isn’t valuable for the world. And the way you make that invention valuable is to turn it into a product.”
“Teaching chemistry in the classroom is sometimes like trying to teach soccer at the chalkboard,” Pomeroy adds. “In the laboratory, students are far more engaged when they’re actually trying to solve a problem. Most people will tell you that our students are really, really bright, but they don’t always have practical experience.”
“This is a way to provide them with that.”
As Algenesis Meterials’ first product, the Triton will represent the platform on which the faculty members and students will work to refine the chemistry and manufacturing process. In time, they hope the experience will allow them to replace more petroleum-based products, such as shoe soles, car seats, or tires. The lion’s share of our oil today is, after all, originated from algae — and it is Mayfield’s hope that “anything we can make from petroleum we can ultimately make from algae.”
Image credits UC San Diego.
The Tritons — and any other polyurethane items made from algae oil — are more eco-friendly than their petroleum-based counterparts because the carbon used to manufacture them is captured from the atmosphere, not sourced from oil reserves. The team is also looking to make them biodegradable by converting the algae oil into polyurethane while allowing the carbon bonds inside the plastic to be degraded by microorganisms. The end goal is to make flip flops that “can be thrown into a compost pile and they will be eaten by microorganisms,” Mayfield says.
“If we can make these products sustainable and biodegradable, we can impact not only San Diego, but every beach community on the entire planet,” he says. “In San Diego, we have this fantastic surfing culture, many of our faculty and students are surfers, and I think all of us understand because of that connection to the ocean how important the environment is.”
They plan to have the flip flops commercially available sometime in 2018.
Researchers from the University of California Berkeley finally have the answer to why our shoelaces become untied when we walk – and what can do to make it happen less often.
Shoelaces have a very annoying tendency to come undone out of the blue, for no apparent reason. To find out why, a team of researchers from the University of California took to the treadmill with a high-speed camera. They report that the repeated, specific impact generated by walking loosens the knot and then pulls it apart.
The team was led by Christine Gregg, a Berkeley mechanical engineering PhD student. Being a runner herself, Gregg laced up and ran on a treadmill so the team could study what happened to the knots. They filmed the shoes using a super-high-speed camera recording at about 900 frames per second, so they could take a frame-by-frame look at what was happening.
The recording showed that the impact of each step hitting the ground loosens the knot, and the swinging motion generated at the laces’ ends as our feet move forward pulls the knot apart. Furthermore, the team showed that both these elements have to work together to untie your laces – Gregg’s knots stayed firm when she sat on a chair and swung her legs back and forth or when she stomped down on the ground without any swinging motion. Finally, running makes the knots come undone much faster since it’s more energetic than walking.
The knot to tie all knots
But as we all probably well know, not all shoelaces come untied everytime you go for a walk or a jog. Obviously, tying them tighter makes it less likely they’ll do so. But there’s also another way you can tie them to make the know last longer, the team says – although currently, they don’t really know why this works, just that it does.
The usual (and weaker) bow is based on the ‘granny knot’, they write. You tie it up by crossing the left end over the right one and bringing the left end under and out. You make a loop in your right hand, wrap the other lace counter-clockwise around the loop, and finally pull it through. But they found that a bow based on the square knot fares much better when walking or running. You start tying it the same way as the knot above. The difference is that after you make a loop in your right hand, you instead wrap the other lace clockwise around it.
Image credits University of California, Berkeley.
Both of these knots will eventually come undone, the team says, but the weaker bow failed twice as often as the stronger one over a 15-minute running period.
On a more personal note, I’ve found that if you tie your shoelaces into a knot and then take the two loops of the bow and knot them again, you shouldn’t have any problem with them coming undone.
Still, while trials can show us which knots are strong and which are likely to fall apart pretty fast, we don’t really know why.
The research could help further our understanding of this question, and has implications for several fields of activity: for example, it could help design better stitches which are less likely to come undone.
The full paper “The roles of impact and inertia in the failure of a shoelace knot” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.