This editorial article is a part of Technology of the Future Month 2022 in Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Verizon 5G. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Verizon 5G before publication.
Fortunately, Zhang wasn’t physically hurt, however he was left shaken by the experience and believed there could be a better way to travel where you wouldn’t have to sacrifice safety or speed.
“Instead of taking a risk and using a scooter or a bike,” he thought at the time, “what if we have a way of augmenting walking so that you can not only travel more efficiently, but be safe to the user itself as well as to the rest of pedestrians around us?”
With that question in mind, after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, he founded Shift Robotics. The five-year-old mobile technology company produces Moonwalkers, a wearable mobility device that the company boasts will let you walk twice as fast with half the effort.
After years of prototypes, Shift Robotics has created the electronic shoes that can adapt to the wearer’s gait using an “intuitive AI drivetrain.” During the development process, the company’s engineers worked with jet propulsion engineers, roboticists, and shoe designers to create the product. Moonwalkers are chargeable, attachable to a variety of different shoes, controlled by the wearer’s pace, and meant to be able to walk at seven miles per hour.
Although as a robotics hub, Pittsburgh has no shortage of companies working in the future-oriented space, Shift Robotics is unique in specializing in electronic shoes. Shift Robotics has a modest team of six employees of engineers based in Pittsburgh, with a few part-time employees who work remotely in other cities throughout the country. In the future, Zhang, who also acts as the company’s CEO, said he hopes to bring on developers and fill sales and marketing positions.
If the product sounds a bit far-fetched, know that once people actually try the devices, they’re usually pretty excited about them: The company used the Pittsburgh Robotic Network’s inaugural Discovery Day in November as an opportunity to give the public a taste of what Moonwalkers could do.
“We got an overwhelming amount of excitement and everybody was asking us when they could get a pair that they could take home,” Zhang told Technical.ly.
Although there were a few skeptics in the crowd, the founder said their feedback provided an opportunity to consider what the product’s limitations were and how it could be improved for customers.
In March 2023, the company plans to ship its first batch of products in the form of a hundred pairs of Moonwalkers. Currently, Moonwalkers have a list price of $1399.99 on the company’s website; however some Kickstarter supporters got a slight discount by choosing the early bird option through which they could pre-order a pair for $999. Shift Robotics’ leadership felt that that raising money on Kickstarter would be an easier way to fund a product that could be considered a gamble.
“Kickstarter is a soft start that is going to allow us to prove it’s a more viable product,” Zhang said. “It allows us to prove that there will be a market demand and help us [to gain] more traction for distribution.”
After the initial distribution, the plan is to follow up with 400 pairs, and later in the year open up sales to the general public.
The Kickstarter campaign brought in $329,409 from 570 backers. The money, Zhang said, was used on producing the Moonwalkers that will be shipped out to its first customers and backers. As the company grows, Shift Robotics plans to seek funding from more traditional avenues such as venture capital.
In addition to a successful first round of distribution, Zhang hopes that the product succeeds in helping its users travel quickly and safely.
“The Moonwalkers have the ability to help lots of people who prefer walking over skating or prefer walking over scooting or biking to have a viable, meaningful ways of going around,” Zhang said. “It’s much faster than what they’re used to.”
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