2 months of wearing exo-footware; notes and observations
I felt that now was a good time for an update on the exo-footware. in the midst tweaking software and hardware for the exo-voice, a few out of town gigs and a glorious detroit summer-all of which will recieve their own posts-Ive been wearing the "exo-feet" daily. i havent worn a shoe since late april. i promised myself that id never buy shoes again and i plan to keep that promise. i figured that this is a good time to report on how theory matches up to experience.
As a summary, I have been working on a shoe-replacement footware design for a couple of years, parallel to my other projects, meaning mostly drawings and lucid dreaming. i wanted to investigate a footware system that was biomechanically compliant while also allowing for basic foot protection on one end and foot expression on the other. the exo-foot is the result, or rather is the beta iteration of an evolving expression trajectory. rather than designing with soft materials, i designed it to be mechanical over flexible and to allow for full foot motion as i understood it to be when i created it. the exo-foot is fully 3d printed with industrial grade nylon and the flexible parts are made of a rubber-like material called ninja-flex.
from the first moment i put them on both feet (i wore the prototype on the left foot for a few weeks before i created the right foot) i recognized that i wanted to walk around on my tiptoes more. i knew this would happen. they were kind of designed for this modality. but i found myself naturally inhabiting this style of walking increasingly after week one. it seemed strange at first until i realized that, being an avid cyclist, i cycled with them from the first day i started wearing them which wasnt easy as the forefoot is only connected to the rear of the foot by way of a hinge. this made my normally sure footed cycle technique, wobbly, even slipping off the pedal a couple of times. after a week of cycling and not wanting to "eat it" (it= the road), my ankles and forefoot got used to this new modality and cycling technique normalized but along with that normalization came more forefoot and calf strength and the desire to stand on my forefoot as a regular thing. its weird...i will just be standing in a line at the grocery or walking in the grass and notice that ive been walking on my forefoot exclusively for a significant amount of time without fatigue. strange and interesting...
the side effect of this has been greater balance during performances. realized a few weeks ago that i play different stuff on my tiptoes than i do flatfooted, whether i am wearing the exo footware or barefoot. in the last week or so i am finding it easier to stand on one forefoot with the other off the ground, for whatever expressive reason. this is really interesting from a performative point of view because it alludes to an emergent new kinesthetic vector that i've not investigated before. although this is a topic of a separate blog post, my past few recent performance outtings have mutated significantly. as the fractal engine of the exo-voice becomes more and more refined-ie, creating the sound i am about to play from a simple starting point with many parallel directions i can take that overlap efficiently to create any sound concept i want, quickly and performatively-the more intimate the body expression becomes. there is a feeling of constructing a hyperdimensional form within the stereo field, that is tangible, intoxicatingly so. the concept of music as i knew it not long ago, has been shed, or rather molted, and in its place is something more archaic, pure and primal.
and the body modulates within the field of influence of this form. gone is the "stand and play" modality and in its place is bodily contortion and submission to a powerful psycho-cymatic construct that requires nothing less than a body that wants to step into and through the intangible and to become the form itself, while helping to birth and perpetuate said form and the increased strength of the part of the body that touches the ground, has influenced this capability. that, and the increase in foot width that comes from being unbound from shoes for 2 months.
my feet have become wider and my toes spread more than i can remember them ever having been. but all is not as simple as it seems. with all of this change in foot morphology, there is also an increase in aches in the foot. every morning, recently, the first few steps are painful. my feet must stretch for a few minutes before i can begin my normal routine. my left foot more than my right, because, i believe, i wore the left foot longer than my right. its not excruciating or sharp...its more like they still arent used to the range of motion they are having to come to terms with.
there is also pain on the sides of the forefoot where the rotation joint is. this area has been particularly "conversational" within the realm of biomechanical feedback. the design is surprisingly good at not falling apart.
there is a solid hinged piece and a flexible rubber like piece that both act to "pull in" those edges, while the foot itself pushes outward. it is a self tensioning system that is very good at not bending too far in either direction. but this strength of design is a pain because it doesnt "give" as much as i would like. this design squeezes the foot too much in that area and is responsible for significant foot ache. i have experimented with widening the rubber tensioner, which has helped a bit, but it really needs to be tweaked significantly to widen that area by about 4-7mm. that would also accomodate the widening of my feet, which these were not designed to accomodate. in addition, the flatness of the design is a mistake. the pinkytoe side of the foot should be slightly lower (2-4mm) than the bigtoe/arch side. it is very hard to roll from the heel to the forefoot because the design makes my feet want to make this motion down the middle of the foot, placing too much weight onto the arch area. this is an easy fix but also a crucial one.
the midfoot also needs a redesign. the heel to midfoot section must be tweaked to rotate at th heel. currently the heel/midfoot bumps into the foot at the hinge when walking. its not a deal breaker but it can be improved. also the hinge itself, which hinges the forefoot to the rear of the design(y-axis, if you will), needs an x-axis in the middle of it because i have found that the foot has much more flexibility than i accounted for in this design. easy mod.
the rear section is interesting in different ways. the ankle brace is wonderful for short strolls but for all day walking, which i did for a week a couple of weeks ago, without my bike, becomes excruciating. it eats into tht bend area perfect. it'd actually be a pretty perfect torture device that slowly drives the wearer mad. in the rear of the design the v-shaped recess hurt until it calloused that are of the foot. and the achilles brace was a tiny bit too narrow and chewed its way into that area until it developed thicker skin as well. in fact, weeks 2 and 3 were reserved for rubbing pain, healing and callouses, after which they became more interesting owing to their strength increasing tendencies, now buffered by thicker skin in the affected areas.
real world responses to the design
so, as for the responses to them out in the world, i must say that although i knew they would get a bit of attention i wasnt ready for how quickly people noticed them. people instantly peep that these arent normal shoes. they've been called "robot-feet" a number of times and my favorite was a woman who assumed they were "biking sandals", which isnt strictly wrong. on a recent trip to do a workshop, i left my normal shoes, which i had not worn since beginning to wear these, at home and wore them to the airport and through airport security. i didnt know how they would act about them but the responses i got ranged from not even noticing, to curiosity ending in "cool shoes!". a complete non-issue going though airport security 🙂
what is most interesting is the conversations they start. when i explain that they are 3d printed it is as if 3d printing is exonerated from some place of irrelevance in their minds and instantly into the realm of "almost useful", which is kind of the point. a musical prosthesis is a device for an especially nerdy musician, but 3d printed "shoes" are instantly something relatable. it allowed a conversation about open source ideals to be less about lofty abstractions and more grounded in the day to day.
right now, this iteration is good enough for the time being. i have too much to do with campaign fulfillment and upcoming teaching commitments ala sonic fractal matrix school 😉 to fuck with this too much right now. it works and works surprisingly well. my feet have adjusted to them quite well and they seem to be more durable than i originally believed they would be, but they arent perfect and this is only the first iteration. i will create the midfoot rotation first and redesign the heel to rotate freely as well, when i do decide to jump back into it. in addition, i want to iterate the toe area to be more intimately expressive and make the entire design more thin and pliable which will allow me to think more modularly as we descend into winter, when i think i might have to begin to think about shells and modules conducive with inclimate (cold, slippery and wet) weather. maybe some fingerprint like ridges as well, to aid in scanning the ground better.
sensors and lights can be added at any time. ergonomics are much more crucial.