Sep 22, 2022
by James Roberts
Meet B.I.L.L.: The Sneaker-cleaning Robot From Nike and PCH Innovations
by James Roberts
Sep 22, 2022

Nike has got itself a new robot called B.I.L.L., aka Bot Initiated Longevity Lab. Debuting in Nike Town London, B.I.L.L. is an interactive new experience for customers that cleans and refurbs their Nike sneakers.

With 3D scanning capabilities, moving robotic arms and a smorgasbord of cleaning tools, B.I.L.L. can clean and process a pair of Air Force 1s in 45 minutes. And you can watch it as it works. The service is free for all customers throughout September. Bring your Air Force 1s, Air Jordan 1s, Dunks and Space Hippie 01s, and give them a new lease of life.

We caught up with PCH Innovations, the Berlin creative engineering studio that designed and built B.I.L.L. Although not originally sneakerheads, the guys there dived headfirst into the history of kicks — discovering an appreciation for the culture and its artifacts. This research pointed them in the right direction, resulting in a machine that cleans and repairs with respect to the consumer’s sneakers.

It starts by scanning your shoe, taking a 3D digital image and pinpointing areas that need attention. Then, it cleans the sneaker with different brushes for different parts of the shoe. Finally, shoppers can choose designed patches which are then applied to the worn sections. Nike assistants will then replace laces and insoles by hand to complete the repair.

PCH Innovations told us that “the goal of B.I.L.L. was never to try and convince people who already took care of their sneakers to switch to a robot. It’s about spreading the idea, and the opportunity, of keeping sneakers in use longer to people who would ordinarily replace their sneakers as soon as they’re anything less than pristine.”

It’s also convenient. And fun. PCH Innovations and Nike wanted to inspire customers by building something interactive that shows them how their sneakers could last longer. While some cynics might see a gimmick, PCH says that things like the 3D scanning “brings another layer of fun and surprise into what may otherwise be an arduous process, and puts new tools in peoples hands.”

This makes the idea of circularity more accessible. It helps shift “manufacturers’ and consumers’ mindsets from one of perfection to one of preservation.”

B.I.L.L. was also built with sustainable design in mind. It uses a closed-loop water and filtration system that allows water to be reused up to eight times. Per pair washed, the system only requires 0.35 liters of water and 0.4 kWh for a full clean. Modular, recycled materials were used for the structure, and repurposed surplus laces were used for the soft wipe-off unit that cleans the shoes.

While B.I.L.L. is currently programmed for a limited selection of Nike shoes, the system is designed to be “sneaker-agnostic”. PCH says there’s definitely an opportunity to scale up. The different stations — scanning, cleaning, drying, patching — can be used individually in different retail locations. And PCH Innovations’ hope is to roll-out variants of the system across Nike’s global stores.

Noah Murphy-Reinhertz, Sustainability Lead, Nike NXT had this to say: “Maintaining old products is deeply personal. People will go to great lengths to care for their favorite shoes. Repairing a product is a way to extend our memory with a product. We see B.I.L.L. as a tool for being able to do that.”

When asked about B.I.L.L.’s implementation and impact across the broader fashion industry, PCH said, “We also see the impact of the project transcending the function of the machine, in the sense that it initiates conversation and interest around repair and reuse. It draws on the existing reverence within sneaker culture to turn a blemish into a badge. Mending something uniquely as a means to expressing identity. And that mentality is something we can, and should, apply throughout the clothing industry.”

Get yourself down to Nike Town London before the end of September to try out B.I.L.L. for yourself.