How will we walk and run in virtual reality? Oculus Rift developer Palmer Luckey will endorse the Omni treadmill by Virtuix. Exclusive interview
The Omni by Virtuix is the first locomotion device targeted to household consumers, in terms of price and size.
It is a passive omni treadmill that consists of a low friction surface with radial grooves.
The user wears specialised Omni shoes that have a low friction sole and a plunger pin that fits in the platform surface grooves, stabilising the foot and allowing for a steady gait rather than having the foot slide from left to right. The purpose of the Omni shoe configuration is to mimic a natural gait. The Omni comes with a waist support assembly that provides safety and a subtle support that allows the user to walk on the Omni hands free.
Ahead of the Kickstarter campaign in May, 3D Focus speaks to Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk and starts by asking what the reaction was to the Omni at SXSW.
Jan Goetgeluk: Palmer and others (Chris Roberts, Paul Bettner) tried the Omni at SXSW in Austin this past March and greatly enjoyed it. We were allowed to film our demo night for Kickstarter, so we’ll have some fun footage to share. Palmer is endorsing the Omni for our Kickstarter campaign.
3D Focus: How do you intend to work with game designers and application developers?
Jan Goetgeluk: Our software translates movements to key strokes that drive the avatar in the game. As such, any game that uses keyboard input can be played with the Omni, without any adjustments. However, to enable true virtual reality experiences, we need to augment the immersion by de-coupling a user’s walking direction from his viewing direction and even gun aiming direction. We will develop an SDK that provides game developers with the required motion input to enable this level of immersion.
Our software currently supports walking, running, jumping, crouching, and hand/arm movements. We are still working diligently on de-coupling viewing/walking/gun aiming, and supporting various tracking methodologies beyond the Kinect.
3D Focus: Will it arrive in kit form?
Jan Goetgeluk: The Omni is a large device that will require some assembly by the user, similar to what you would do with exercise equipment (but, nothing challenging). However, we will likely include a discounted DIY reward in our Kickstarter campaign that includes just the Omni base, allowing the community to come up with their own upper support assembly designs. We want to include and listen to the community as much as possible. Our key objective is to develop an omni treadmill that is affordable to household consumers. The Omni has no moving parts, which allows us to keep the costs down.
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3D Focus: Are you disappointed the Oculus does not have positional tracking?
Jan Goetgeluk: Positional head tracking would have certainly increased the level of immersion, and would have allowed us to use Rift input to easily detect jumping and crouching. However, my guess is that the consumer version will likely have positional head tracking.
We will include integrated tracking in our Omni product, so that the user does not necessarily need a Kinect (although we will support it). We are currently exploring various tracking options: accelerometers, full IMUs, optical tracking methods, etc.
3D Focus: Is it easy to use?
Jan Goetgeluk: The Omni is easy and comfortable to use. Most people need about 5-10 minutes to get used to the Omni, but afterwards you feel like walking naturally, and your brain thinks the same. Walking on the Omni does not require much effort, but it certainly is a good work-out while being immersed in a game.
3D Focus: What non-gaming applications do you expect the Virtuix Omni be applicable for?
Jan Goetgeluk: Virtual reality stretches far beyond gaming. Some exiting non-gaming applications of the Omni include VR fitness and exercise, virtual tourism, virtual events, training and simulation, virtual workplaces, virtual meet-ups and multi-person adventures … the possibilities are limitless. Virtual reality is the future.
3D Focus: Can you see something like this being used for virtual tourism?
Jan Goetgeluk: Absolutely. Virtual tourism is a great example of a non-gaming application. Imagine how you can wander around foreign cities and explore ancient sites with the Omni + Rift. You could even add some action to the experience and make it a multi-person adventure. The opportunities for developers to create these new experiences are abundant.
3D Focus: What are your thoughts on the Oculus Rift?
Jan Goetgeluk: The Rift is a great innovation that is enabling this virtual reality revival. The low resolution is offset by the level of immersion. Even people complaining about the resolution will likely admit that the overall experience is still mind blowing. And the Rift will only get better, and so will the resolution. Couple the Rift with the Omni, and you suddenly have a fascinating virtual reality set-up that will attract a crowd much larger than just VR enthusiasts.
Jan Goetgeluk: Do you think future models of the Virtuix Omni could feature some sort of haptic feedback in the waist support (for gunshots for example?)
Jan Goetgeluk: Haptic feedback sure is the next step in virtual reality innovation, albeit not an easy nut to crack. Our waist support could certainly have haptic feedback at a later stage, but our primary objective right now is to keep the cost down. Haptic feedback is not cheap.
3D Focus: When resolutions increase, do you think survival horror games using virtual reality could be too intense for some? Would it be dangerous?
Jan Goetgeluk: I think survival horror games would be a blast. That kind of highly immersive, experience focused games are great to be adapted for virtual reality. Imagine Amnesia or Slender with the Omni + Rift…. Not for the fainted hearted!
3D Focus: Some are looking at how moving forwards and backwards can be achieved in VR using digital hotspots where, once you step out of them, you move in the direction you are looking – do such techniques pose a threat to the Virtuix Omni?
Jan Goetgeluk: The main objective of the Omni is to enable you to walk freely and naturally in a virtual environment. Any other solution that tries to emulate free walking by shuffling, walking-in-place or other methodologies are likely to feel less immersive and less natural. The Omni makes your brain believe that you are truly walking; you are in a different world. It’s a mind blowing experience that I have not seen replicated by any other device.