Image courtesy of Shift Robotics

Are Robotic Shoes A Micromobility Innovation Or A Solution In Search Of A Problem?

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These “robotic shoes,” which are billed as “the world’s fastest shoes,” promise to more than double your walking speed, thanks to an 8-wheeled electric drivetrain and an adaptive AI system.

The Moonwalkers, from Shift Robotics, were chosen by TIME as one of the 200 Best Inventions of 2023, but is this the micromobility innovation we need, or is it a solution in search of a problem? I mean, humans already know how to walk pretty dang well, and can easily increase our walking speed instinctively, without the need for any batteries or motors, but evidently it struck a nerve with some people, as the team behind it was able to raise more than $300,000 on Kickstarter last year.

According to the company website, Moonwalkers are “the first-ever mobility device that allows you to walk at the speed of a run. Designed with an adaptive A.I. drivetrain, you can cover more distance — at your own pace.” With a top speed of 7 mph and a range between charges of 5 to 7 miles, these “robotic” shoes can be strapped on over your regular shoes, and are said to be built to handle “rough urban terrain.” The Moonwalkers feature regenerative braking and a 90-minute charge time, weigh a little over 5 pounds each, and have a weight limit of some 220 pounds.

At first glance, they appear to be something akin to roller skates, but they don’t freewheel, so they appear to be a fair bit easier to learn how to use than skates, and according to Shift Robotics, they can quickly be put into “lock” mode for times when the propulsion isn’t needed or wanted. The regenerative braking feature is said to help control the descent speed, and the shoes’ AI system will bring the user to a stop within 3 feet, so unlike skates, there doesn’t seem to be a danger of slamming into things as there is for newbie skaters.

Now, color me skeptical, but these $1399 wheeled shoes don’t seem to be something prone to wide adoption, at least to the general public who wants to simply walk faster on their daily commute. They are yet another thing that needs to be charged and maintained, and kept track of or stored when not in use, and I imagine that using them indoors in public spaces might attract unwanted attention from the powers that be, which may not appreciate wheeled walkers in and around stores or businesses. After all, if roller skating indoors is frowned upon, it might be a hard sell to convince people that these are indeed different enough to be exempt from rules barring them.

However, I did see one use case presented by the company that could be a great fit for these Moonwalkers, and that is in warehouses, factories, and other campus-based situations where the floors are smooth and clean and people could really benefit from walking faster in the course of their job duties.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m definitely not the target market for Moonwalkers, but if you are, then you can learn more about these unique electrified robotic shoes at the Shift Robotics site.

Image courtesy of Shift Robotics

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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

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