The jury is still out on Back To The Future-esque automatic lacing but footwear brand Nike is envisioning a world where consumers 3D print their trainers at home rather than buying them from a high-street shop.
Nike chief operating officer Eric Sprunk was at the GeekWire Summit to discuss the technology behind the new Flyknit Lunar 3 shoes, which are created using a knit machine, meaning there is very little waste. Once the file is sent to the knit machine, it can create the shoe from scratch and produce a full working product by itself.
This is a big change from the way shoes are made, whereby pieces of material are cut out and then assembled by several different workers in a factory before they are dispatched to stores.
Sprunk envisions a world where people log on to the Nike website, pick a pair of trainers and then customise the design to their exact specifications. The user then buys the design file from Nike, downloads it and sets it up to print on a home 3D printer, or they take the file to a high-street Nike shop and the firm prints it.
"We have a huge initiative in our company called manufacturing revolution. It's really just innovation in manufacturing. If you look at 3D printing, knitting, automation, robotics, motion sensing and cameras... now you can automate all of that," he said.
"Do I envision a future where we might still own the file, from an IP perspective — because it's a Nike product; you can't have just anybody make a Nike product — and you can manufacture that either in your home or we will do it for you at our store? Oh yeah, that's not that far away."
Sprunk also sees a world where shoes contain lots of sensors and are Internet of Things (IoT) connected shoes, which are able to send data to Nike telling it how you wear your trainers.
He added: "It won't be that many more years until our footwear will be connected. It may not have its own IP address but it will certainly have its own serialisation... would we like to know how your shoes are wearing on your feet? Yeah, we would like to know that. We think we can help you run better, we think we can be a catalyst for you to do something different."