'Moonwalkers': These AI-powered strap-on shoes can make you walk three times faster

Imagine being able to make a quick grocery run or walk your dog as fast as if you were on a moving walkway.

An American start-up, Shift Robotics, has invented a device designed to be strapped onto your own shoes to boost your walking speed by up to 250 per cent.

That’s right, you could be walking at up to 11 km/h, about three times faster than you normally would.

The "Moonwalkers" look like skates, but they’re not freewheeling - so that you don’t lose your balance.

Thanks to machine learning algorithms, they only move when you do: they can stop when you want, be locked to go up or down stairs, and automatically regulate their speed when you’re going downhill.

Say you’re about to hop on the bus: you only need to lift your right heel and then place it back down on the ground, so that the electronic brake fully locks the wheels.

To return to walking at the pace of a run, you get out of this "lock mode" by lifting your right heel in the air and rotating it clockwise while keeping your toe on the ground.

A video of the shoes shared on TikTok went viral earlier this year, racking up 24.9 million views to date.

'Enhance walking, don't replace it'

The company’s founder and CEO, Xunjie Zhang, says the idea for his invention came after a near crash on his scooter while commuting to work. That's when he asked himself why he, like many others, never walked to work.

"A lot of people don't rely on walking. This is surprising, considering it's much safer, more convenient, and better for the environment," Shift Robotics said on its Kickstarter crowdfunding page.

The problem, the team said, is that walking is just too slow and inefficient. "So we made it our mission to enhance walking instead of replacing it".

With a team of jet propulsion engineers at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotic Institute and roboticists and sneaker designers, Zhang spent the last five years trying to devise the world’s fastest shoes "relying on the body’s own engineering".

Shift Robotics says that, unlike skating, the Moonwalkers require no skills to learn - it’s genuinely walking. According to the company, the AI adapts to each user’s gait and it takes under 10 steps for the algorithms to learn the user’s walking patterns.

"Like the moving walkways you see in airports, with every step you're making, the conveyer belt moves underneath your feet," Zhang told Insider. "The faster you walk, the faster the shoes walk with you".

"No freewheeling" is one of the Moonwalkers' biggest safety features, he added: "Unless you are walking, they are completely locked".

The shoes are secured with a magnetic buckle, which can be unfastened if the device malfunctions, he said.

The team launched Moonwalkers on Kickstarter in October 2022 and has since raised almost $330,000 (€303,600).

The shoes were tested by people from ages 15 to over 60, and most people were able to walk in the shoes "pretty proficiently" within 10 to 15 minutes of strapping them on, Zhang told the publication.

The Moonwalkers are currently only available in the United States, for $1,399 (€1,287) a pair.

The hefty price tag has attracted some sarcastic comments on social media.

"So expensive roller skates?" one TikTok user wrote about the viral TikTok video. "My city's beat sidewalk would never make this feasible," another comment read.

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