Nike’s new robot repairs and cleans sneakers

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(Photo: Nike)
When you score a cute new pair of trainers, you’re faced with a tricky dilemma: wear them around town, exposing them to wear and tear and the elements, or keep them impeccably intact in the safety of your home. But shoes are made to be worn, and most of us will at some point have to come to terms with the fact that a pair is a little too ragged to keep using it. That is, unless a Nike repair robot is nearby.

Last week, the multinational sportswear brand unveiled what he calls BILL, or the Bot Initiated Longevity Lab. BILL is a ‘robot-augmented’ system powered by Kuka, the industrial robot maker behind such eye-catching technologies as the University of Naples’ bartender robot and Moscow’s finger-breaking chess robot. Using recycled polyester patches, water-based cleaning products and movements inspired by old-fashioned shoe repair, BILL is able to repair and refresh a range of the most popular shoe styles from Nike.

The restoration begins with a Nike employee (or “store athlete”) loading the shoe into the robot. The system proceeds to create a 3D digital model of the shoe while noting areas requiring repair or cleaning. If the upper of the shoe (the “upper”) needs repair, the shoe owner can select the patches they want to complement the worn material. The robot then gets to work cleaning the shoe’s upper, sidewalls and outsole before applying patches where needed. Then store athletes can manually add new liners and laces made from recycled materials.

(Photo: Alex Kurunis/Nike)

The process takes about 45 minutes per pair. BILL can currently repair and clean the Air Force 1, Air Jordan 1, Nike Dunks, and Space Hippie 01, expensive and often collectible sneakers whose owners are most likely to seek longevity protection services like those from BILL. Nike is showcasing BILL at Nike Town London, its four-storey store in the UK, where it will offer the system’s services free of charge.

BILL is Nike’s latest initiative for more environmentally friendly product practices. Before BILL, there was the brand’s Refurbished line as well as its recycling and donation program. All three are part of Nike Go to zero mission, which aims to achieve zero waste and zero carbon emissions at some eventual and undisclosed time – a lofty if not vague goal, despite the brand’s apparent appearance refusal to address other controversial aspects of its supply chain.

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