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Exploring Mobility with Shift’s Moonwalker Electric Shoe-Skates

Gliding through the halls of Detroit's Huntington Place convention center, Abe Pleta showcases Shift Robotics' Moonwalker electric shoe-skates. Unveiling a $1,400 footwear innovation, Shift's focus diverges from typical robotics, targeting the enterprise market and reimagining how people traverse spaces like warehouses. Xunjie Zhang, Shift's founder, conceived the idea during his own commute quandary, leading to the creation of these semi-skating shoes. Launched via a viral Kickstarter campaign, the Moonwalkers promise both mobility and fun, with speeds of up to seven mph and the potential for airport escapades. Shift Robotics is navigating the transition to enterprise with safety at its forefront, embodying innovation and potential for a transformative future.

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Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center recently played host to an intriguing sight – a person gliding down its halls in what appeared to be a combination of skating and walking. While the Automate event showcased a plethora of technological wonders, the notion of $1,400 footwear that combines mobility and style was a revelation.

The individual behind this innovative contraption was none other than Abe Pleta, a lead mechanical and design integration engineer and the third employee at Shift Robotics. This company’s name might mislead you at first glance, as its current focus diverges significantly from the rows of robotic arms that adorned the convention center floor.

Originally a representative of the Pittsburgh consortium, a group of fascinating companies in the region that includes Gather AI, a drone inventory firm, Shift Robotics has embarked on an unexpected path. It has been progressively aligning itself with the enterprise market, identifying a unique niche that ties into the demanding world of warehouses. In these spaces, where countless footsteps are taken daily, the Moonwalker shoes by Shift have emerged as a potential solution, promising to make walking a smarter and more efficient endeavor.

Shift Robotics was founded in 2018 by Xunjie Zhang, who, after spending four years at Rolls-Royce, returned to study mechatronics at CMU. Zhang’s inspiration for the Moonwalkers was born out of necessity – the need for a faster mode of commuting. Faced with the slow pace of walking, Zhang pondered on how to enhance this basic human activity. This contemplation eventually led to the genesis of the Moonwalker electric shoe-skates.

Image Credits: Shift Robotics

Years of meticulous development culminated in the launch of a Kickstarter campaign in October. Despite the absence of an elaborate marketing team, Shift’s Moonwalkers garnered tremendous attention, rapidly exceeding their funding goal of $95,000 within a mere two days. The campaign’s success provided more than just financial backing – it served as a litmus test, affirming that there was indeed a market for these semi-skating footwear priced at $1,400. This validation has paved the way for Shift to fine-tune its offerings and gradually lower the price point as it expands its reach.

The Moonwalkers, which boast ten wheels, are divided into four motorized two-wheel clusters and a pair of non-motorized wheels at the front. The design choice to keep the front wheels non-motorized stems from safety considerations, as the motion is initiated using the ball of the foot, akin to roller skates. Motorizing the front wheels could introduce potential hazards. The wheels themselves are constructed from durable polyurethane.

Notably, George Powell, the founder of Powell-Peralta Skateboards and an industry luminary, played a brief yet impactful role in guiding Pleta on the intricacies of wheels through an email exchange. Powell’s involvement was limited, as he expressed a desire to remain within the skateboarding realm.

Although the Moonwalker shoe-skates prioritize mobility, they also promise a touch of amusement. With a top speed of seven miles per hour, they can effortlessly outpace a standard human gait by 2.5 times. Airport travelers will find these shoe-skates especially delightful, as they can reach speeds of up to 12 mph on moving walkways, ensuring a swift passage through terminals.

However, the Moonwalkers are not without their nuances. Weighing around four pounds, they may initially prove slightly burdensome, leading to some muscle soreness after the first use. This weight can be attributed to the incorporation of drive trains and a battery, offering an approximate range of six miles on a single charge. Adjusting to the shoe-skates themselves takes time, as users secure them over their regular shoes using Velcro straps. Activating the wheels requires a pivot of the right shoe’s heel, transforming a white light to green on the side.

Image Credits: Shift Robotics

As I tested the Moonwalkers under Pleta’s guidance, it became evident that mastery over the shoe-skates required a brief learning curve. The process was reminiscent of roller skating, with the shoes doing most of the legwork. Occasional interruptions in stride revealed ongoing algorithmic adjustments being made by Shift, which will be delivered to users through a firmware OTA update.

Having skated down half a convention center aisle and back, I can confidently assert that a mastery of the Moonwalkers could be achieved within 20 to 30 additional minutes of practice.

Shift Robotics stands at an intriguing juncture, poised to explore the pathways of enterprise adoption. This trajectory mirrors the journey undertaken by Magic Leap, as it pivoted from consumer headsets to enterprise solutions. The allure of bulk sales beckons, although navigating regulatory obstacles like those imposed by OSHA presents its own set of challenges.

Abe Pleta sums up the company’s approach succinctly, “We’re figuring that out as we go.” Remarkably, Shift Robotics has reported zero injuries throughout the five years of development, a testament to their commitment to safety and innovation. The journey of these electrifying Moonwalker shoe-skates, guided by ingenuity and resilience, is set to leave its mark on the realm of mobility.

Image Credits: Shift Robotics

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