Do you remember when in order to access computing power you had to punch cards? Go to the computer room, wait for the only mainframe computer to read them, and for the single, room-size printer to print the results? 

In the book Bowling with a Crystal Ball, several general mega-trends in technology are identified. One of them represents the transition from Floor-top to Desktop, Portable, and Mobile. Another represents the transition from centralized to personal (and customized).

Just think of computers, printers, telephones, television, radio, 3D printing (and the whole "Makers" movement that can be seen in almost every science museum and school), newspapers, and you will see how those trends materialize.

If an author produces books through Amazon's CreateSpace, they are not printed until you actually order them. At that point, in one of Amazon's distribution center, a single copy is printed, packed and shipped directly to you.

So it should not come as a surprise that Nike and design powerhouse W+K Lodge introduced a radically new way to completely customize sneakers, and "print" them within an hour. Using computer vision (one of the most aggressive technology trends, responsible for autonomous vehicles, for example) and advanced projection technologies, The Nike Makers' Experience (which, as of this moment, is an invite-only experience), at the Nike By You Studio in New York, will allow you to wear a white pair of Nike Preston X shoes, start designing the shoe graphics, and see what your shoes would look like. You can move around in them, and the combination of computer vision and projection would allow you to dynamically see those shoes as if you were actually wearing them. Once you are satisfied with the design you created, a pair would be "printed" within the hour.

This is a dramatic improvement in the "immediate gratification" consumption trend from the NikeID system that was available for design customization and purchases online, without seeing what those shoes would actually look on you, and delivery that took three to five weeks.

At this point, this is just a limited proof-of-concept. Time will tell if this would become the new way of buying shoes. My instincts tell me that we might skip this step and go straight to printing shoes at home on a 3D printer. But that's just me...

Published on: Sep 19, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of