Gamers are constantly looking for ways to immerse themselves into the virtual world through interaction in order to gain an increased sense of realism. Several devices on the market at this point allow players to feel as though they’re either in the game itself or gives them control over on-screen avatars through gesturing (using devices such Microsoft’s Kinect or the Oculus Rift VR headset). Sure can walk around in an virtual environment using the Kinect but its limited in spatial orientation when it comes to said movement (due to the lack of detection at certain distances) unless, of course, you have a series of Kinect systems and an enormous amount of space to use them in. Unfortunately most gamers don’t have the scratch to shell out to create a ‘holodeck’ in their homes, so they’re stuck using either a keyboard/mouse combo or controller to move around in gaming worlds. One electronics company, known as Virtuix, however, is looking to change that by incorporating a multi-directional treadmill system to move about in VR/gaming environments. Virtuix’s Omni treadmill was designed using no moving parts or electronics what so ever but rather uses a low-friction surface with embedded omnidirectional grooves. Users wear specially designed low-friction footwear that’s outfitted with plunger-pin on the bottom that fits inside the grooves that stabilizes the foot making for a more natural gait rather than sliding around on rollers. The Omni is actually meant to be used in conjunction with a Kinect sensor, which detects the user’s direction and movement and converts the player’s walking/running motions into emulated keyboard keystrokes. Pair the Omni with the Oculus Rift and you could almost have total immersion in a VR environment (albeit without the feeling of getting shot by VR bullets). Virtuix is looking to refine the Omni prototype so that it can be folded up for easy storage and then plans on putting the design on Kickstarter for mass production of the platform. The company states that future versions could use more precise tracking technology that would allow for separately tracking of the users head direction, walking direction and even a gun-aiming direction for ‘true virtual reality.'
A video of the Virtuix Omni running the game Crysis Warhead.