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Adidas robots are coming to Atlanta to make your next pair of sneakers

Robots are set to play an increasing role in the production of Adidas running shoes after the company this week revealed more details about plans for its first automated production facility in the U.S.

The sportswear giant started testing its robots earlier this year at a purpose-built “Speedfactory” in its home country of Germany. And now it intends to launch the same cutting-edge facility in Atlanta.

As its name suggests, the technology inside Adidas’s Speedfactory allows it to manufacture goods at a rapid clip, with the regional location helping it to cut down on shipping emissions and get its gear to outlets in a more timely fashion.

Covering an area of more than 74,000 square feet – about 1.5 times that of a football field – the Atlanta facility’s robot army will start churning out footwear toward the end of next year. Adidas says it has a “mid-term aim” to produce around half a million pairs annually, though doesn’t specify how many it wants its bots making once the place is running at full capacity.

“Equipped with cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, the U.S. factory enables Adidas to create products in increasingly high volumes with advanced complexity in color, materials and sizes,” the company said in a release.

The Atlanta operation will employ 160 human workers, presumably to help keep those bots fully functioning.

Addressing concerns that more robot-operated production lines means fewer contracts with the more than 1,000 independent mostly Asia-based “human” factories currently making Adidas products, the company’s head of technology innovation, Gerd Manz, insisted last year that its Speedfactory strategy is a “separate business model” and will therefore complement, rather than replace, existing manufacturers.

With global manufacturing moving toward increased automation, and the World Economic Forum predicting the process will replace some five million jobs in the next four years, it’ll be interesting to see if Manz is still offering the same line come 2020 or whether his voice, perhaps offering a reconsidered perspective, will be drowned out by the sound of thousands of automatons cranking out running shoes at those high-tech Speedfactories.

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Trevor Mogg
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