These Robots Are Using Static Electricity To Make Nike Sneakers

by MR Magazine Staff

The most labor intensive part of putting together a pair of Nikes is assembling the “upper” — the flexible part of the shoe that sits on top of your foot. On many sneakers, uppers look like a single piece of material with no visible stitching, but they can actually be made of as many as 40 pieces that are stacked up just so and then heated so they fuse. While robots handle much of the shoemaking process, this has remained beyond their capacity. So humans remain in charge. Now the robots are coming. Four years ago, Nike Inc. made an investment in a startup based in Sunnyvale, California called Grabit that uses electroadhesion — the type of static electricity that makes your hair stand up when you rub it against a balloon — to help machines manipulate objects in novel ways. More recently, Nike has quietly become one of the startup’s first customers. In the past month, Grabit has begun providing facilities that make Nikes with a handful of upper-assembling machines that can work at 20 times the pace of human workers. By the end of the year, about a dozen of these machines will be operating in China and Mexico. This could be a step forward in Nike’s attempt to change the economics of shoemaking so it can relocate manufacturing closer to the big consumer markets in the U.S. and Europe. Read more at Fortune.