Virtual reality allows us to enjoy new, immersive experiences – we could be world-class runners, footballers or even soldiers serving in a special military unit. To fully become immersed in these experiences, the VR equipment should cover our entire body and all of our senses. There have been many advances in these fields; in this article, we will focus on walking in VR, and the upcoming gadgets which enable us to transmit our real-world leg movements into the virtual world.
All four gadgets work in the same basic way: the user is confined to a small space, similarly to a running treadmill. The devices themselves need space to be placed on, there is no free-form walking around in the room like HTC’s room-scale feature in the Vive, making these incompatible with this feature. The devices also have harnesses, which have to be put around the player’s waist to keep them inside the platform.
The Virtuix Omni is one of the first VR treadmill equipment that was made available to a somewhat wider audience. The early backers, the so-called Pathfinders have been using it and helping with its development since January of 2016. They help the Omni team by providing feedback on the device and its software, which is then utilized by the developers to make regular adjustments to the software side. With a $500 price tag, the Omni is quite expensive, but users get a high-quality, customizable device which can be fit to suit almost anyone’s legs. This includes the special shoes which are used to track movement.
The device uses a special concave pad, in which gravity helps the user to stay in the middle, and a harness which should be placed around the waist, enabling the tracking of body orientation, completely separate from leg movement. This enables the player to walk in a specific direction and rotate their body at the same time. As of now, only native Omni games make use of this feature.
Developed in Austria, the Cyberith Virtualizer, which had a successful Kickstarter in 2014, is an upcoming accessory for the Rift and the Vive. The walking platform is lighter and less bulky than the Virtuix Omni’s concave pad, and movement is tracked via motion sensors instead of special shoes. The user can easily crouch on one leg, and movement is more free-form inside the platform than in most other similar devices.
The KATVR team from California had a successful Kickstarter for their omni-directional treadmill in 2015. The device itself works almost like the Virtuix Omni, albeit this one doesn’t have a belt preventing the user from walking off the platform; instead, a special fixed part will prevent them from falling off. This part looks like a coat-rack, and it is connected to the user via a small belt.
The Infinadeck treadmill was showcased at CES 2016, where a limited audience could try out a prototype of the device. According to one participant, this device is more natural than others of its kind, because just like a running treadmill, the pad moves and reacts naturally to movement. Because of this, walking with Infinadeck is very immersive. The user is held in place by a simple harness hanging from above the pad.
As you can see, these four gadgets take on the same general approach to simulating movement in VR. Out of these, only the Virtuix Omni saw a somewhat wider release so far, so software and game support for these devices is quite low at the moment.