LOOK invented the ‘clipless pedal’ in 1984 largely based on ski binding mechanisms, which they already manufactured. Prior to 1984 bike racers’ shoes were attached to the bike with ‘toe clips/straps’, this being a metal toe frame which was screwed to the pedal platform.
Feet were then lashed tightly to the contraption across the instep using a leather strap – hence ‘toe clips’. Lashing feet to a pedal when the bike is upright and moving forward is all very good, not so good when the falling over bit happens!
The now ubiquitous term ‘clipless’ simply comes from the fact the toe clip is no more! LOOK, along with Shimano, Time and Speedplay all now make pedals which implement binding systems. Cycling specific shoes with a pair of ‘cleats’ (one for each shoe) on the sole act as the connector between the shoe and the pedal.
They largely utilise the similar need to twist the foot to disengage but each make is not necessarily compatible with the other.