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Inside Nike's "Adaptive Traction," the Wolverine of Soccer Shoes

The cleats can actually extend in response to soggy ground conditions. Here's how they work.

Nike Mercurial Superfly

At a big, blow-out event in London last week, Nike unveiled its splashiest innovation, in advance of the 2010 World Cup: The Mercurial Superfly Vapor II football boot (or "soccer shoe," to Americans). Aside from the hotrod looks, the most intriguing innovation was the "adaptive traction technology," which allows the pegs of the cleats to actively adjust to turf conditions. Say what? How's that happen?

"From pitch to pitch, and even within a single pitch, the ground conditions vary," says Andrew Caine, Nike's creative director for soccer footware. "Pro players vary their boots to adjust, so we had a vision of shoe that would adapt." Three years later, the Vapor II has studs that extend up to 3mm in soft ground, but act like a normal stud on firm ground.

"In design, the simpler the mechanism, the better something works," says Caine. For the Superfly II, there are three basic components that allow the pegs to adapt. The structural support for the shoe comes from a carbon-fiber "plate" in the sole. Meanwhile, the bright orange pegs on the front of the shoe have a moving column inside. (Which you can see in the picture below—it's the black core.)

Nike Mercurial Superfly

When a player steps into soft ground, the carbon sole flexes, pushing those columns down. The clear coating on the outside of the sole stretches in response, thus allowing the pegs to literally extend—while also keeping the entire mechanism sealed off from water and mud.

After impact, the coating then pulls the pegs back into place, and keeps them from driving back up into the foot.

The colors, meanwhile, are meant to be a performance enhancer for the entire team. The orange swoosh is meant to be a bold contrast with the green soccer pitch, thus making teammates easier to spot in a player's peripheral vision while he's on the run. And that's the same reason the outside is purple and the inside is dark: "The contrast creates a visual flicker that engages the peripheral vision," says Caine.

Nike Mercurial Superfly

Nike Mercurial Superfly

Click here for our 2010 Most Innovative Companies profile of Nike.

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