List of Omnidirectional Treadmills Under Development
Maybe the term “omnidirectional treadmills” had you asking: what is it, exactly?
Gradually increasing popularity along with the boom of virtual reality, omnidirectional treadmills are “smart” treadmills that enable its user to move around his surroundings with 360-degree flexibility. As opposed to the traditional fitness-oriented treadmills that are designed to be linear (moving in one direction), omnidirectional treadmills gives free movement to its user in line with any virtual content that makes use of the user’s physical motion. This piece of technology opens up a whole new dimension to the VR experience – by basically keeping the user aligned with any movement he initiates in a virtual world, any VR content would not be limited to the user’s stationary position. It’s a cool technology that closes the gap between the user’s standstill position and virtual reality’s limitless movement possibilities. Let’s take a closer look at some of the omnidirectional treadmills currently in development, and what makes them an integral part in creating the total VR experience.
Earning support from crowdfunding site Kickstarter, the Virtualizer by Cyberith is an omnidirectional treadmill developed to bring even greater immersive experiences to virtual reality. By supplementing VR headsets, the Virtualizer improves on the physical aspect of the VR experience by making full body movements possible in any virtual reality content. It features a flat, circular platform that has a slippery surface, which helps to facilitate smooth, seamless movements. The platform itself has a ring support attached to vertical beams that acts as the safety harness, preventing falls and slips while being engaged in VR content, as well as a mechanism for vertical movements such as jumping, crouching, and sitting. A feature that sets apart the Virtualizer from any other omnidirectional treadmill is its ability to provide haptic feedback. The Virtualizer HT, a haptics technology built right into the Virtualizer, is based upon the acousto-haptic technology concept to introduce vibrations to the user experience. The Virtualizer treadmill is currently undergoing refinements, and is offering a software development kit (SDK) for the Virtualizer HT.
Working on the concept of the traditional treadmill, Infinadeck is a powered omnidirectional treadmill that has the ability to drive the user in any direction he prefers. Unlike the Virtuix Omni, which is a stationary platform, the Infinadeck works by driving a square set of parallel “mini-treadmills” to precisely simulate walking and running movements aligned with any virtual reality content. It offers the feeling of natural movement of running, jogging, or walking in real life by driving the set of treadmills in any direction. It is an active type of treadmill – the user decides to which direction he wants to move, and the Infinadeck will appropriately act depending on the movement circumstances. Using the platform doesn’t require any specialized shoes or equipment. And since the platform is flat-surfaced, the user can freely move in any direction without any restrictions in movement. Infinadeck is currently in prototyping stages and is undergoing refinements, such as the addition of an active control system for safety purposes, as well as integrating an ability for the user to specify a desirable speed or pace.
Being the first omnidirectional treadmill to be introduced to the gaming industry, the Omnideck is the brainchild of a Sweden-based tech startup, MSE Omnifinity AB. Its first application in gaming as a simulator took the industry by storm, and had the focus of many gaming evangelists. The Omnideck is a 360-degree treadmill that allows free movement while being engaged in virtual content. It features an optical tracking system that accurately monitors the user’s movement in virtual space to maintain a sense of realism and presence. The development team behind the Omnideck predicts that their treadmill will soon be the demise of the traditional keyboard-and-mouse combo in games. Promising to give immersive VR experiences, the Omnideck supports a wide range of popular VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift. Aside from its benefits for the gaming industry, Omnideck is also being tested for military training, where VR headsets are being used in conjunction with the 360-degree treadmill to give immersive and realistic combat training exercises.
Turkish tech company SpaceWalkerVR is currently developing their take on the 360-degree treadmill for virtual reality applications. The hardware features a rotating treadmill, controlled by a gyroscope that senses the user’s movements. Pressure sensors underneath the platform detects variations in foot pressure to adjust its force feedback. Aside from its application in VR, it can also be configured as a normal treadmill for fitness training. The SpaceWalkerVR is currently in prototyping stage, and is expected to support the Oculus Rift. Its added Unreal Engine support is expected to open up SpaceWalkerVR’s applications in virtual gaming environments.
Developed by Virtuix, the Omni is a peripheral device intended for use in virtual reality systems, enabling full freedom of movement in any direction the user wishes to. It has a slippery, octagonal concave platform that requires its user to wear specialized shoes – a pair of shoes having a sole that works with the slippery surface of the Omni’s platform. It has an attached ring contraption that acts as a safety harness to prevent slipping out of the platform during intensive VR use. Since the Omni is optimized to work with VR systems, it has out-of-the-box support for the Oculus Rift, among other VR headsets out in the market today. The Omni started as a Kickstarter project, which proved successful by garnering a staggering US$ 1,109,351 – hugely surpassing its initial goal of US$ 150,000. It is currently being developed for its final product, with an expected consumer release later in June.
At first glance, the Virtusphere seems like a giant hamster ball. Indeed, it is a man-hamster ball. Virtusphere is a 10-foot hollow sphere which sits atop a platform full of motion sensors to track and analyze body movements. These data are then interpreted by a supported VR headset as user input that enables full movement responses to any virtual content. As the user steps inside this hollow sphere, he can do any movement as freely as possible. Movements like running and walking enable Virtusphere to create user-generated motion within a virtual environment in a VR headset. Having an early prototype, the Virtusphere has been tested to work with certain VR games. It is currently being developed towards a consumer-grade product, and the development team is also working on a so-called Virtual Game Controller that is intended for the adaptation of 3D applications to work with the Virtusphere.
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