Unlike cruising down the sidewalk on roller skates that come with a bit of a learning curve, the Moonwalkers are supposedly as easy to use as the moving sidewalks that whisk you down a long airport terminal. You just strap them to your feet and go for a stroll, while enjoying a considerable boost in speed.
Developed by a team of robotics engineers who spun off their work at Carnegie Mellon University into a new company called Shift Robotics, the Moonwalkers might look like roller skates, but they add power and intelligence to the experience so you never feel like you’re Wile E. Coyote trying to chase down the roadrunner with an Acme rocket strapped to your back.
A strap-on design allows the Moonwalkers to be used with almost any pair of shoes, and each unit features a 300-watt electric motor that powers a set of eight polyurethane wheels similar to what you’d find on a pair of inline skates, but much smaller, and not all in a single line, so there’s no balancing required. Sensors monitor the user’s walking gait while algorithms automatically adjust the power of the motors to match, synchronized between each foot, so the added speed increases and decreases as the user walks faster or slower. A hinged toe section flexes the same way a shoe does, so the Moonwalkers feel more comfortable and natural to walk in.
The claim that Moonwalkers can increase someone’s walking speed by up to 250% is based on the fact that most people walk at around 2.5 to 4mph. The Moonwalkers actually have a limited top speed of 7mph, even while walking downhill, and users can come to a full stop in a little over three feet. They’re also designed to be used on stairs with a special foot gesture that activates a mode that locks the wheels and prevents them from rolling freely.
With a battery-powered range of about six miles, they could potentially be another alternative to a car for short commutes or used as a last-mile tool if parking close to your destination is a challenge. And because they’re much smaller than an electric scooter or a bike, they’re easy to keep stashed at your desk or even in a backpack when not in use.
The Moonwalkers are definitely an unorthodox way to get around, and, as you’ve probably guessed, they’re not exactly cheap either. Shift Robotics is attempting to bring them to consumers through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that’s hoping to raise $90,000 for a production run. At the time of writing it’s not quite there yet, but you can pre-order a pair, with delivery expected as early as March of next year, with a $999 ‘Early Bird’ contribution. Full retail pricing for a pair of Moonwalkers is expected to be closer to $1,400.
Even with a team of talented engineers from Carnegie Mellon University behind it, there’s always a risk with backing Kickstarter products, particularly from a company introducing its first consumer device. Delivery and manufacturing delays with crowdfunded products are common these days, as is the risk of the Moonwalkers never coming to fruition, along with the potential for a full refund.