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World’s fastest shoes: Brilliant future tech or just a gimmick?

A lot has changed in human ways throughout history. Yet, as long as can be remembered, what has not changed is our basic form of movement. We still walk the same way our ancestors walked: slowly.  

But with their ‘Moonwalkers’, a team of designers at the US start-up Shift Robotics is on a mission to change that, promising that their new invention will increase walking speed by 250 percent.

“It all started on a day when I was riding a scooter and almost got hit by a car,” recalls Xunjie Zang, the founder of Shift Robotics. Although his workplace was only about a mile away, the experience made him wonder why he had never simply walked there.

“It’s not just me, a lot of people don’t rely on walking, which is surprising considering it’s much safer, easier and more convenient, plus it’s better for the environment,” he tells TRT World, adding, “the problem is that walking is just too slow and inefficient.”

In a modern world where we have a multitude of transport options intended to replace walking – his near-accident made him wonder if, rather than replacing walking – he could perhaps improve it.

The idea made sense. Especially in an urban setting, it would allow people to get to their destination faster, freeing up time and even potentially relieving traffic congestion.

Soon after, Xunjie gathered together a team of robotics experts, jet propulsion engineers, race car engineers and sneaker designers, and within just about five years, their Moonwalkers have become a reality.

“Moonwalkers are not skates. They’re shoes. The world’s fastest shoes, actually. You don’t skate in them. You walk. You don’t have to learn how to use them, the shoes learn from you,” says Zang.

Moonwalking into the future?

Moonwalkers look like something between a set of 1980s-style skates and a bulky pair of oversized sandals. However, those AI-powered “mini-Teslas” on your feet take themselves quite seriously and claim to help you reach running speeds while casually walking with no extra effort.

Each one has a set of eight small wheels connected to a motor. The sensors inside them pick up on motion–learning from your walking pattern and adjusting the AI algorithms to increase or decrease speed depending on your movements.

Since the wheels aren’t freewheeling, you don’t risk losing your balance, and the learning curve, if any, is minimal. They’re not like skates – rather, wearing them resembles the feeling of walking on moving treadmill-sidewalks at an airport (the ones which get you from one terminal to another faster) – if you could wear them right on your feet.

The Moonwalkers come in one universal size and strap on to any pair of shoes. With specifically designed wheel placement, they can deal with uneven ground surfaces, gravel and cobblestones. They can go uphill and downhill and they can even tackle stairs – all it takes is a simple gesture with your foot to change the operation modes. They can endure small puddles and all different weather, and a single charge (via a standard USB-C port) promises to give you enough juice to travel nearly 10 km.

With built-in AI features for increased safety and efficiency, the two Moonwalkers communicate with each other hundreds of times a second via Bluetooth to adapt to you and your walking patterns. 

For example, if you set your foot from a paved surface into a soft sand surface, one shoe would “notify” the other shoe, so that it adjusts the pace at which the wheels are moving. Or, if you stop with one foot, then the wheels on the other would also ease you into stopping.

Furthermore, the shoes measure the pressure applied by you with each step and the company says it takes Moonwalkers only 10 steps for the algorithm to learn a user’s walking pattern. They go when you go, stop when you stop and they regulate optimal speed when moving up or down a slope.

Shift Robotics has just recently completed its Kickstarter campaign, raising $329,409, or nearly four times its goal. The first Moonwalkers are now scheduled to begin shipping in the spring of 2023.

While early reviews have been largely positive, the Moonwalkers’ weight of 4.2 lbs each has raised some concern among early testers. Likewise, their pre-sale price may be out of range for some users and may make this new invention more of a luxury item, at least for now.

Social media excitement about the product, however, appears high, and Zang is confident in his work.

“We believe in a future where everything can be within our walking distance. And the first step is to help people work effortlessly at running speeds,” he says.

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