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Nike Is Using Static Electricity to Assemble Sneaker Uppers

Nike-backed Grabit, a California-based robotics company using electroadhesion (a fancy name for static electricity), is changing the way the footwear industry manufactures uppers.

Bloomberg Technology reported last week that Grabit has begun placing its machines in Nike assembly facilities within the past month. Unlike past innovations that involve robotic hands mimicking human physiology, Grabit’s invention uses flat pads of electrodes that, with the proper charge, create an electric field that sticks to nearly any surface.

This allows the robot to do things that other robotics companies cannot, Greg Miller, Grabit’s CEO, told Bloomberg. “The things we’re getting pulled into, we’re getting pulled into because they can’t be done another way,” he said.

The technology is also made to work with humans, an aspect that some of Nike’s upwards of 1 million employees will be happy to hear, as the company begins around 1,500 layoffs starting this month.

Grabit has plans to place around a dozen of the machines, which can work almost 20 times faster than the pace of human hands, in Mexico and China by the end of the year. The new technology can be applied to the apparel, aerospace and automotive industries as well.

Only time will tell what this will mean for the future of the footwear industry, but lead times are sure to be cut, creating an even faster speed to market during a time when customers are increasingly expecting immediate satisfaction.