3D printing lets us manufacture things that previously would have been impossible, costly, or both.


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A hole in your basketball is typically not a good thing, but Wilson’s bizarre new Airless basketball prototype treats them as a feature. Indeed, it’s probably more hole than ball, and yet it’s said to bounce and respond like a regulation NBA rock.


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Like many of the airless flying tire concepts I’ve seen, Wilson’s airless ball maintains its bounce using a highly engineered elastic structure instead of pneumatic pressure. In this case, the company went with a series of hexagonal holes, arranged into a 3D lattice, while also replicating the typical binding pattern of a leather ball, so players can get their fingers into the seams as per normal.


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A structure this complex can only be 3D-printed, so that’s what Wilson did, in some kind of “research-grade” polymer material, which was then coated in black, and sent off to Wilson’s “NBA test facility in Ada, Ohio,” for “rigorous testing.”

The results of this testing are not yet clear, although Houston Rockets forward “KJ” Martin has been shown giving it a bit of a bounce in the heavily edited video below.


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Indeed, Martin brought the prototypes out during All-Star weekend for a quick father-and son act, which you can see at about 3:30 in the video below. On the evidence presented, it certainly seems to bounce about right and go through the hoop with alacrity when thrown into it by a 6-foot 7-inch superhuman.


See it in action


Wilson says the Airless Prototype is designed to match the performance of a regular NBA ball as closely as possible including the weight and bounce response of a leather ball inflated to regulation pressure. As a basketball enthusiastmyself, I’m fascinated to know what the grip’s like in your hand, how it reacts to spin on a bounce pass or off the backboard, and whether the free movement of air through the carcass affects the aerodynamics much on a long shot. Would this thing be better or worse on a windy day?



The benefits are fairly clear. As with airless tires, you’ll never have to pump these things up, and no puncture is going to put an end to your session. On the other hand, they’ll probably start to pick up the odd bit of debris, which’ll rattle around in there. And while they can probably be expected to last a fair while, it’d be interesting to know how the material stands up to years of hard bouncing and clanging off double rims; will the polymer lose elasticity and bounce over time?


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Wilson’s not making these things to sell them at this point, and neither is it pushing the NBA to use them in games. That’s probably for the best, ballers can be a superstitious bunch, and if Steph Curry missed his first three shots with an airless ball he’d probably never want to see one again. No, this is a concept ball, a test bed and an exploration of future possibilities. Concept balls! What a time we live in!

Check out the video talking through the design and build process above.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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