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Nike eyes holographic technology for sneaker design

The company has been awarded a patent in which a sneaker can be drawn on with a digital pen to create a virtual, printable design.

The tech would also include the ability to project virtual design elements, so users can see what a sneaker will look like after production. Nike

Sneaker maker Nike has invented a new way for people to design sneakers with help from holographic-like technology, a new patent reveals.

Earlier this month, Nike was awarded a US patent on an "Augmented Reality Design System." The patent, which was first discovered by Quartz, describes a method by which a user would be wearing "a head-mounted display" and looking at a real-world sneaker template in front of them. With help from a digital pen, the user can design a sneaker that is then translated to a computer for eventual printing onto wearable sneakers.

The cross-section of technology and sneaker design is nothing new. Most of the prominent sneaker brands offer digital tools that allow users to customize designs online and order their own, unique pair. Nike, for example, offers a NikeID platform, that lets users pick a sneaker type, choose colors and textures, and add text.

Nothing from the company so far has offered a full, end-to-end option for those who want to create a sneaker design from scratch.

Some reports have suggested that Nike's technology will utilize virtual reality. However, based on the patent filing, it appears more likely that Nike is interested in holographic technology. Virtual-reality devices, like the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, put people into completely software-generated virtual worlds outside of the real world. Holographic technology, like that in found in Microsoft's recently announced HoloLens wearable, overlays high-definition virtual visuals on the real world.

As Nike points out in its patent filing, the company's technology is a "design system [that] allows a user to create a design for an article in real time using a proxy." That proxy in the drawings accompanying the patent filing is a generic sneaker that a user is drawing on with a virtual pen. According to the filing, the technology also includes the ability to project virtual design elements, so users can see what a sneaker will look like after production.

Still, many questions remain. It's unclear from the patent, which was originally filed in 2010, whether Nike is considering designing its own eyewear or will rely on something else like Microsoft's HoloLens. Nike doesn't say in the patent if the technology is designed for consumer use, or if it will be used by its sneaker designers. There's also no word out of Nike on whether the invention will ever be made available. Patents, after all, are filed all the time and in many cases, the technologies featured in them never hit store shelves.

Nike did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the patent.