A robotics startup wants to be startin' somethin' with Moonwalker roller skates

November 17, 2022 | By Anthony Venutolo

Walking is so 2021. Shift Robotics wants to speed up the way we walk with Moonwalkers, robotic roller skates. In fact, using adaptive AI, the company claims the shoes can learn the pattern of a user's gait in under 10 steps. 

The Pittsburgh-based startup, which raised more than $300,000 on Kickstarter to develop these skates, wants the world to "walk at the speed of a run." Think of Moonwalkers as adult-sized Fisher-Price roller skates. But with punch, and a cost.  A pair will run consumers about $1,200 and reach a top speed of 7 mph for roughly 90 minutes.

So how do they work? Moonwalkers have an AI powertrain that uses machine learning algorithms to adapt to a user's gait, making the skates an extension of people's legs.

Xunjie Zhang, inventor and founder, says that he originally had the idea to evolve the way people walk after he almost crashed on his scooter while commuting to work. “I asked myself why I never walked to work – and it’s not just me, a lot of people don’t rely on walking," he said in the company's release. "Surprising, considering it's much safer, easier and more convenient.”

While it's easy to picture Moonwalkers flooding college campuses, parks and city streets in a few years, Zhang reminds us that our basic form of movement hasn't changed in six million years. "We still walk the same way our great-great-great-grandparents walked: slowly," he said in a promotional video. "The way we walk is stuck in the past. It's time to bring it up to speed."

So there you have it. As for us? Well, we're not about to try them out on the treadmill. 

A zombie delicacy plays pong

A team of neuroscientists and programmers have taught a dish of 800,000 living brain cells how to play Atari's legendary arcade game “Pong.” The team's research was published in October in the journal Neuron. But this isn’t just a game. This work could someday impact research in dementia and epilepsy treatments.

Dubbed DishBrain, the nerve cells were overlaid on a multi-electrode array and researchers found they could send and receive signals from nerve cells at particular areas on the grid. In order to inform DishBrain where the Pong's ball was, electrodes on the array could fire on one side or the other, and the frequency of signals could reveal how far the ball was from the paddle. DishBrain could also activate motor functions, such as moving the in-game paddle up and down.

“We can kind of decode information going out and encode information going in just through these very small electrical signals and use that to represent what’s happening to the cells,” Brett Kagan, lead author of the Neuron paper and chief scientific officer of biotech startup Cortical Labs, told Popular Science in late October.

So what's next for DishBrain? Its performance will be compared to that of an artificial neural network by the research team. Additionally, researchers are interested in how it performs while under the influence of alcohol and narcotics.

From there, the team will be looking to see if the research will aid modern medicine. "I think the primary commercial aspect for us is helping researchers in very difficult spaces like dementia research, epilepsy, and even depression, use the technology we’ve developed to look for new therapies and new drugs,” Hon Weng Chong, chief executive officer of Cortical Labs, told Popular Science.

Toyota doubles down on Prius

Perhaps no car has shown drivers what can be possible more than the Toyota Prius. Where Tesla has shown enthusiasts how gorgeous EVs can be designed, the Prius was the first to introduce the concept of fuel sipping to the masses.

The new Prius has a 10% decreate in fuel efficiency but a sleek new look. (Photo credit: Toyota)


On Wednesday, a brand-new model of the standard-bearing hybrid vehicle made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show. While it has a marginal 10% decrease in fuel efficiency, the new Prius is now lower, longer and sleeker looking. In other words, its generic toaster look is well ... toast. Even better, power and performance improvements are greater.

The standard hybrid Prius will have a maximum output of 196 horsepower, which is a 62% increase over the 121 peak horsepower of the existing model. The hybrid Prius generates electricity to recharge its own batteries while moving, and Toyota estimates drivers can achieve a fuel efficiency of around 57 miles per gallon.

The Prius Prime, its plug-in hybrid variant, uses lithium-ion batteries that are charged by both the car and by plugging it in. That extra little bump gives drivers 37.5 miles or more of electric-only driving before burning any fuel.

Toyota says it has sold more than 20 million electrified vehicles globally since the Prius debuted in 1997 and those sales have reduced CO2 emissions by 160 million tons, or the impact of 5.5 million all-electric battery automobiles.

With several automakers abandoning combustion engines and battery-electric hybrids altogether, Toyota sees things a bit differently. CEO Akio Toyoda said in early October that his company was doubling down on the strategy of investing in a range of electrified vehicles instead of opting for all-electric cars and trucks.

“Just like the fully autonomous cars that we are all supposed to be driving by now, EVs are just going to take longer to become mainstream than media would like us to believe,” he said in a video recording at Toyota’s annual dealer meeting in Las Vegas. “In the meantime, you have many options for customers.”

Enter this sleek new Prius.

Anthony Venutolo, Manager, Global Communications