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Nike designed these wild Air sneakers with a little help from AI

Nike’s most famous product got a technological upgrade in shoes for Sha’Carri Richardson and Kylian Mbappé.

Nike designed these wild Air sneakers with a little help from AI
[Source photo: Nike]

At Nike’s preview for the Paris Olympics this week, the most exciting products it has shown don’t even exist. Not yet, at least. Nike debuted a fresh line of concepts developed for 13 of its Olympic athletes using one of its most iconic technologies: Air.

[Image: Nike]

Air modules—which are technically a sandwich of TPU and nitrogen that adds bounce to your step—come in just a eight styles today. But Nike has been working on a “supercycle” of innovation around Air to reimagine the technology with more performance and personal expression.

Zheng Qinwen [Image: Nike]


We saw a first taste of this with the Air Max Dn, which just launched in late March and featured the first ever two-stage air bag system. With Dn, two rear bags are loaded at a higher PSI than two bags in front. With every step, your foot naturally rocks forward, almost like your heel is on a hinge.

Perhaps more  important than the underfoot sensation, though, is the visual effect: the Air Max Dn is an eye-catching defiance of gravity. It looks as if a machine blew four bubble gum bubbles into an outsole that’s somehow able to support your weight. (The truth isn’t so far from that, really.)

Sha’Carri Richardson [Image: Nike]

Now, Nike is hinting at the more distant future of Air. Inspired by the tastes of its own athletes, Nike says its designers used a combination of generative AI tools and 3D rendering software to dream up this haute line of sneaker-inspired gear in only a few weeks.

For tennis player Zheng Qinwen, a Chinese lunar calendar-inspired serpent of Air wraps around the front for the shoe, promising traction and the firm lockdown of the foot onto the shoe’s sole. For sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, Nike presents a track spike with a high heel silhouette, supplemented with the silky ankle strands of a ballet slipper. Here, the Air unit begins as a bold orange in the forefoot before morphing into a gossamer of pink near the rear.

For the footballer Kylian Mbappé, Nike says it mixed a typical footballer boot with the lines of a fighter jet. To me, it almost looks like the swoosh itself has come to life with a sharp line of heel-to-toe Air.

Kylian Mbappé [Image: Nike]

While it’s difficult to imagine that any of these ideas will ever make it to market, they do demonstrate a particularly imaginative side of Nike design that’s welcome to see. As of late, Nike has been criticized for re-releasing endless waves of Jordans and Air Force 1s and designing MLB uniforms that can fit too snug and wick sweat so efficiently that players appear soaking wet on the mound (and it’s not even July yet). Meanwhile, these concepts aren’t just wild sneakers; they’re athletic wear gone couture.

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Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach. More

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