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Nike Unveils New High-Tech Lab

The Nike Sport Research Lab (NSRL) has moved into much roomier digs.

Located in the cantilevered top floor of Nike World Headquarters’ new LeBron James Innovation Center, the expansive, 84,000-square-foot lab quintuples the footprint of its predecessor.

According to Nike, the facility houses 97 force plates, four “advanced” climate chambers and a full-size basketball court surrounded by motion-capture cameras. In all, it contains 825 pieces of testing equipment, the company said. Some of the more practical sports facilities include a 200-meter endurance track, a 100-meter straightaway and an artificial-turf training pitch. Outside, an incline-training ramp extends more than 500 feet.

Nike established the NSRL roughly 40 years ago in Exeter, N.H. Today, it is the “the epicenter of where we work with athletes of all abilities, all backgrounds, all skills and all sports,” Matthew Nurse, vice president of the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab, said in a statement.

The Nike Sport Research Lab houses a full-size basketball court surrounded by motion-capture cameras
The Nike Sport Research Lab houses a full-size basketball court surrounded by motion-capture cameras. Nike

“Our goal every single day is to make athletes better and to make the world better for athletes,” Kathy Gomez, vice president of footwear innovation, said in a statement. “Understanding more types of bodies, more genders, more backgrounds and different ability levels helps us create better and more specific product.”

The lab’s location within the new LeBron James Innovation Center places it near biomechanics researchers, robotics experts and computational designers—a function of the company’s intent to facilitate collaboration. Eighty-plus new prototyping machines enable speedy prototyping, with the company capable of creating a new sample in under an hour, Nike said.

An incline-training ramp extends more than 500 feet outside the LeBron James Innovation Center
An incline-training ramp extends more than 500 feet outside the LeBron James Innovation Center. Nike

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“In the innovation space, we take information from the NSRL, and we are able to look at different ways to solve an athlete’s problem,” Janett Nichol, vice president of apparel innovation, said in a statement. “In a conventional way of building a product, we would just go straight to a material, get a pattern, sew it and then that would be it. Here, we can go to anything from biology or chemistry to pushing the limits of a machine to create a very different experience with material.”

The LeBron James Innovation Center features 908 roof solar panels and is powered by 100 percent renewable electricity, Nike said. Water-efficient fixtures, it also noted, reduce water usage by 40 percent.

The LeBron James Innovation Center includes a cafe named after LeBron James' mother
The LeBron James Innovation Center includes a cafe named after LeBron James’ mother. Nike

“For all of this to come together is surreal,” the center’s namesake, basketball legend and lifetime Nike partner LeBron James, said in a statement. “Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m definitely honored. Having my name on the Innovation building feels very fitting because I’m always trying to figure out ways I can continue to innovate and continue to break the timeline of what they say is your prime.”

The new research facility arrives as Nike faces a tougher-than-expected time due to sustained factory closures in Vietnam stemming from ferocious Covid-19 outbreaks. Late last month, the company revealed it had already lost 10 weeks of production—a reality it said will create a gap in the flow of inventory originally ordered for delivery beginning in mid-October. Given this environment, Nike downgraded its financial guidance for fiscal 2022—a period that began June 1—to the mid-single digits. In June, even as it warned of supply chain delays, it had projected growth in the low double digits.