Shift Robotics has created a line of shoe additions known as “Mookwalkers”. It’s a modern spin on the early-twentieth-century strap-on skate.
Moonwalkers, unlike their early or even modern counterparts, use sensors, AI software, and two 300-watt motors to manage braking and acceleration, leaving the operator to do nothing but walk. The skates can increase regular walking speed by up to 250%.
Moonwalkers operate in a straightforward manner. Each skate contains sensors that measure the user’s gait.
Built-in AI algorithms calculate the walker’s speed and acceleration and automatically alter motor speed to avoid a shift in balance. To manage speed, the user just walks faster or slower to accelerate or decelerate.
Each Mookwalker is equipped with ten polyurethane wheels. Each skate’s electric motors power eight of the wheels for up to six kilometers on a single charge (about an hour).
An unpowered pair is coupled to a hinged toe, allowing users to walk naturally — heel-to-toe — with the front half bending on the back step. The hinge also functions as a toggle switch, allowing you to stroll up and down the stairs safely.
Moonwalkers do have some limits. They only have a top speed of 7 mph, making them unsuitable for running or moving quickly, even when going downhill.
Despite their “agility,” they still require time to come to a stop — about three feet from top speed — so users must plan ahead and begin reducing their gait before walking.
Shift was founded by a group of Carnegie Mellon robotics engineers that wanted to commercialise their research.
The organisation launched a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of raising $90,000 for an initial production run. The initiative has raised more than double its goal of $186,875 at the time of publication.
Lifting the heel when stopped instructs the software to lock the wheels. The user can now proceed without the motors engaged. When you reach the top (or bottom) of the stairs, use a similar motion to reengage the wheels.
Although Shift states that slowing your gait should slow the motors enough to be safe when walking near others, this feature could be useful in high-congestion circumstances.
The high-tech skates are also not cheap. Early birds can get a pair for $999 ($799 and $899 packages are gone out).
Shift expects to charge around $1,400 on the retail market. Kickstarter backers should anticipate their Moonwalkers to arrive in March.
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