On the secluded site of a former Luftwaffe airfield, close to the old Bavarian tovvn of Herzogenaurach. the headquarters of German sportswear brand Adidas occupies a secluded 39-hectare site.
It is dominated by a futuristic, seven- storey operationscentre named ‘Laces’, after the vvalkvvays that criss-cross its 30m-high glass atrium. As befits a brand of its heritage – and one that reported a revenue of £17bn in 2016 – the cam pus is professional and inviting. appearing to have based its vvorking culture on the giants of Silicon Valley. Outside, on its rolling lavvns, a small group of its 3000 employees are playing volleyball. while inside, otlıers sit dovvn to lunch in one of a number of h igh-end campus restaurants. On today’s menü: a healthy chicken curry devised by the German football team’s Michelin-starred chef, HolgerStromberg.
But MH’s visit has nothing to do vvith participating in employee sports matches nor samplingbespoke baltis. Hidden in a far comerof the facility – and protected by rigorous security – is the portal to the Adidas Future Lab. an innovation hub vvhere an elite group of 40 researchers, biomechanics and scientists are hard at vvork in the race to pioneer game-changing sport ing equipment that will helpyou run further, score more goals and shatter your marathon PB. The toolsat theirdisposal includeadvanced robotics, state-of-the-art sensors and highly-tuned machinery vetted by NASA, making this the vanguard of athletic progress. Today, MH has been afforded a rareglimpseof the future of fitness.
As the sound of flying footballs echoes around the cavemous, \vhite-walled lab, youthful scientists (ali dressed in jeans – tlıere isn’t a lab coat to be seen) consult Computer screens, analysing how altemate boot designs influence spin rate and speed. Across the room, a 3D Computer model t racks the lovver-body biomechanics of an athlete performing lOmshuttles.
Much haschanged since founder, Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler, cobbled together his first runningshoes in his mother’s laundry room in 1924, pedallingastationary bike to power his rudimentary sewing machine during electricity shortages. Opened in 2012, the lab is a place for the company to nurture its innovations away from the public eye. This is no mere production line. Nor are its researchers simplyconcerned withaesthetics. Here, each product is designed to offer micro- enhancements to your stamina, speed and mobility, with macro results.
The lab has already played a role in develoDinganumberofhigh-performing (and high-selling) products, S from the Ultra Boost shoe using soles made from 3000 thermoplastic elastomers to Iiterally ‘boost’ forvvard momentum to the lace less Асе 16* Furecontrol pp footballboot witha
11 flexible knitted yarn for ball control. And while marketing staff are busy planning for the 2018 FIFA VVorld Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the lab team is thinking further alıead, with products currently in development for release in 2023. In short. this is where future records are broken.
This my sandbox,” smiles Klaus Rolshoven, director of Communications. An enthusiastic speaker in his late forties. Rolshoven hasoccupied hiscurrent role for 19 years, also vvorkingas a designer. Tinkering away on new inventory sits alongside home-brewing as one of his tvvin passions in life. “Ourteam is here to learn, make mistakes and ask questions. We’re not interested in limit iııg ourselves. We take an idea, dissect it. test it. improve it and do our best to tum it into something physical.”
It helps, of course, to have t he right tools to hand, and here only the best will do. In a corner of the lab is a running track surrounded by a Vicon motion capture camera system. It is the same imaging technology NASA uses to test the mobility of its space suits, and has also been used by HolIywood studios to perfect motion capture performances on the Star V/ars and Jurassİc V/orld franchises.
As a test athlete runs back and forth, 16 high-speed cameras beam data to agiant screen, creating a 3D model of his movements for instant analysis. The cameras focus on every joint of his body, enabling technicians toaccuratelytracethearcsof individual body parts. This data I will be used to refine the shoe, ready for another round of testing, and so nuntilthefinished product is ready for launch. L.L1J l “Viconlets us test concepts like acceleration, deceleration, running economy and comfort,” explains Rolshoven. This instant feedback allows for an immediate indication of how to make each shoe perform better.
Another key component in the lab is the Kistler force plate – a rectangular slab capable of measuring up to 20kN (equivalent to 2040kg) of force in order to detect subtlechanges in a runner’s gait or balance. The plate is constructed from quartz crystals, which emit an electric charge when subjected to a mechanical load. So precise is this measurement, that it was Kisther technology that helped the European Space Agency land its Rosetta spaceprobeonamovingcomet in 2014.
It’s arguable t hat employing space age tech to develop shoes is as overblovvn as it is profligate. But in the professional arena, the data it produces proves invaluable. Features like vveight and cushioning – often dismissed as the stuff of marketing spiel – are in fact proven performance-enhancers. “A vveight reduction of lOOg is proven to deliver a 1% increase in running economy,” says Mathias Anım, productcategory ff directorat didasRunning. Lee Inasport vvhereeach millisecond counts, that 1% can be the difference between failure and a lucrative victory for athlete and sponsor.
Back in February, this theory was put to the test vvhen, equipped with the new, lightweight AdizeroSub2 marathon shoe, two-time London marathon vvinner VVilson Kipsang ran the Tokyo Marathon in 2:03:58. At the time, it was the fastest completed on Japanese soil. But it vvasn’t a recordbreaker, nor even the fastest marathon Kipsang had run. Then, in May. Rio 2016 gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge ran an unofficial marathon in 2:00:25 as part of Nike’s Breaking2 project. It is no surprise that the sportsweargiants are locked in a fierce battle toequip the first athlete to break this barrier. Kipchoge was tantalisinglyclose, comfortablyeclipsing Adidas’seffort. But marginal gainscould be the key to success. “Smali. incremental improvements can make a significant difference when brought together across the 20,000 footsteps an athlete takes during a marathon.” says Anını.
The Adidas team also believes that grip vvill play a crucial role in iıııproving perfornıance. “We test it by applying force to a shoe and sliding it över a surface,” explains Anım. “If the foot slips lmm with each step, this makes a significant difference in efficiency vvhen attacking a world record.” Research in the Journal of Textilc and Apparcl has shovvn that higlı- traction soles can help runners shave 0.05s from every 16m. Över the course of a marathon, this equates to 132 seconds.
If Adidas can beconıe the first conıpany to hamess this, it may just make history.
The majority of the lab’s experiments may be focused on footvvear, but high-tech shoes alone vvill not help an athlete achieve greatness if hisbody is at risk of overvvork or overheating. This is vvhy researchers submit each iteni of sports apparel to rigorous temperature-controlled tests in a climate chamber, capable of replicating an Arctic chill of -30°C, or a svveltering Saha ran blast of up to 50°C.
According to Loughborough University research, men running at an average of 75% of their VOj max sweat 120% more fromtheirupperbackthan from their chest. Given that the back is exposed to fewer cooling air currents during running. this seems a somevvhat inefticient method of regulating body temperature. The Loughborough researchers believe this may well be a legacy of our evolutionary past, vvhen humans moved on ali fours, exposing the back to greater airflovv. Puttingsuch theoriestothe test in orderto optimise its latest sweat-wicking apparel is precisely the purpose of the lab. As is the tali orderof measuringevery metric likely to impact an athlete’s performance.
“Duringhuman tests in the chamber we measure everything from body temperature to VO: max, heart rate and lactic acid accumulation in order to see hovv clothing inlluences performance,” explains Rolshoven. As befits a secretive innovations lab, some aspects of testing have a slightly more sci-fı leaning. “VVhen entering the chamber, athletes svvallow a dissolvable pili with a sensor inside it.
It takes 20 minutes to enter the system, then we use a handheld radio device on their stomach to get an immediate and accurate body temperature reading.”
I mproving comfort and durability also plays a significant part in the lab’s work. Recently, the New Zealand rugby team stopped by to test their new kit. “We ran some lineout tests to see vvhere the shirts were grabbed so we could analyse where they needed more strength or flexibility,” Rolshoven explains. Using live-capture data, any small sticking point is noted, revvorked and improved upon in such a way t hat a team’s performance wear is constantly evolving along vvith thegame.
Unsurprisingly, football alsoforms a huge part of the lab’s focus, with product manager Philipp Hagel overseeing the development of ali new boots. “Using our high-speed cameras [the same models Audi uses to monitor impact during crash tests] weget fantastic slow-motion footage of how specific parts of a shoe perform when a playerchangesdirection. We can even see lıow muscles connected to the foot a re inıpacted as they move.”
The latest boot to use this technology is the agility-enhancing Nemeziz, made from a wrap-like assembly of torsion tapes. “It was inspired by the way ballerinas vvrap their feet and boxers wrap their hands,” says Hagel. “To test durability, we put prototypes in a machine that flexes them 100 times perminute.Then we do a minimum of 80 hours’testing.” If that sounds excessive, consider that this forms but asmallpart ofarwo yearprocess frominception
tocompletion.And when your products will be used by some of the highest-paid athletes in the world, nothingcanbelefttochance.
So far. this considered process seems to be payingoff: already this year Lionel Messi has scored a 20-yard strike and set up a goal with a tvvisting, turning run when he vvore the shoes in Barcelona’s 3-1 win över Alaves in the Copa del Rey final in May. Meanvvhile, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino are amongthe players set to adopt the boot next season. athletes in the world stopping by on a regular basis. But the lab team’s approach can be adapted to infinitely improve creativity in any arena.
“We approach our work as though there are no boundaries.” Rolshoven says as our tour comes to an end. “Often, it is when we break out and do someth ing different that the magic happens.” And should that fail, as innovators across the globe have shown, return to the drawing board enough times, and something spectacular is certain to emerge.