These days, lightweight running shoes are a dime a dozen. Is there any way to improve upon them? Researchers from the University of Manchester propose that there is, and that is by using the ultra-thin material called graphene to enhance the grip and durability of the standard rubber used in shoes.
It’s practically a match made in heaven. Experts have been searching for a winning commercial application for graphene ever since it was first isolated many years back. It offers a number of extraordinary material properties that mostly have to do with external surfaces. Meanwhile, shoes are among those everyday items that are only useful if they don’t fall apart after regular use.
The British sportswear brand inov-8 is the brand in charge of bringing the first pair of graphene running shoes to market, and it plans to do so sometime in 2018. It has teamed up with the National Graphite Institute at the University of Manchester to develop a new type of rubber that will allow them to “smash the limits” of grip, making it both easier and safer to run.
Graphene has quite a few unusual physical properties. When used in conjunction with standard rubber, it makes running shoes “stronger, more stretchy, and more resistant to water,” according to a report on the collaboration. This is based on lab tests performed on the shoes with enhanced rubber outsoles.
Graphene imparts all its properties when added to the rubber used in shoes, according to Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Reader in Nanomaterials at the University of Manchester. He was speaking specifically about the innov-8 G-Series shoes which will be the first line-up of shoes with graphene-enhanced rubber in them.
“Our unique formulation makes these outsoles 50 percent stronger, 50 percent more stretchy and 50 percent more resistant to wear than the corresponding industry standard rubber without graphene,” says Dr. Vijayaraghavan.
According to Ian Bailey, the CEO of inno-v8, taking their product line-up in this direction is necessary to stay relevant in a world full of global sports brands. “Product innovation is the number one priority for our brand. It’s the only way we can compete against the major sports brands,” explains Bailey. “The pioneering collaboration between innov-8 and the University of Manchester puts us — and Britain — at the forefront of a graphene sports footwear revolution.”
Unlike other promised products with graphene enhancements, a pair of running shoes will likely be the easiest to implement and manufacture. And the prices of the shoes have already been pre-announced: £140 and £150 — or up to $200 on the high-end.
Apart from what’s mentioned above, graphene holds many other interesting characteristics. It’s described as the thinnest material in the world — it measures only one inch in thickness and is officially considered a 2-D object — yet it’s also one of the strongest. It’s said to be 200 times stronger than steel while maintaining a certain level of flexibility that allows it to be twisted, folded, bent, or even stretched without getting any damages whatsoever.
Because of its physical characteristics, graphene is heralded as the next big thing is manufacturing across many different fields. And in the case of innov-8 and its graphene-enhanced running and fitness shoes, it’s sure to add some much-needed innovation to the mix. There’s a huge possibility that it will turn out just as the experts predict and that people will line up for a chance to use this so-called miracle product to improve their running and fitness routines.
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