Nike’s LeBron James Innovation Center Uses Tech to Create Game-Changing Products
With its cantilevered top floor, the LeBron James Innovation Center is an attention grabber; its boldness is a spectacle of Nike’s sport-research capabilities. On that floor, the Nike Sport Research Lab (NSRL) is reborn, housing the world’s largest motion-capture installation, 97 force plates, body-mapping equipment, and more. In the words of Matthew Nurse, PhD, VP of the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab, “The NSRL is the epicenter of where we work with athletes of all abilities, all backgrounds, all skills, and all sports.”
Some 40 years after its establishment in Exeter, NH, the NSRL continues to set the tone for performance breakthroughs, according to Nike. Within the LeBron James Innovation Center, the NSRL positions Nike for future decades of game-changing products and experiences for all athletes. “Athletes can move here at full speed, full motion—they can just play,” added Nurse.
The center features 84,000 sq. ft. dedicated to sports research and including cutting-edge technology … and lots of it. There are 400 motion-capture cameras, 97 force plates, 825 pieces of testing equipment, four environmental chambers, and over 80 new prototyping machines.
The new scope of the NSRL is fivefold the footprint of its predecessor. Facilities include a full-size basketball court, a 200-meter endurance track, a 100-meter straightaway, and an artificial-turf training pitch—all to capture athletes in motion at full speed. Along with the force plates and motion-capture equipment mentioned above, a series of four advanced climate chambers mimic a variety of conditions. These advancements support an expansion of research and development that encompasses both mental and physical well-being.
“Our goal every single day is to make athletes better and to make the world better for athletes,” said Kathy Gomez, VP of footwear innovation at Nike. “Understanding more types of bodies, more genders, more backgrounds, and different ability levels helps us create better and more specific product.”
The insatiably curious community that works in the space allows for an intersecting mix of talent, from biomechanics researchers and robotics experts to computational designers and patent pros. In fact, the LeBron James Innovation Center is designed to facilitate collaboration and expeditious prototyping (created in under an hour).
“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. It gets extremely interesting,” stated Janett Nichol, VP of apparel innovation, Nike. “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.”
“In the very beginning, we were a company for elite runners. We expanded to recreational runners, and then we got into other sports,” concluded Tom Clarke, president of innovation at Nike. “At every step along the way, it’s been necessary to provide the research, and the scientific proof, that we’re making our products better.”
In addition to using cutting-edge technology, the LeBron James Innovation Center is built to be sustainable. The building has 908 solar panels on the roof and runs on 100% renewable energy. There were 21,210 lbs. of Nike Grind used to create the NSRL flooring, and, thanks to water-efficient fixtures, the building now uses 40% less water.