Omni-directional Treadmill from Virtual Space Devices
Some of you may faintly remember the 1995 film Virtuosity with Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe, in his early acting years. In the film, Denzel goes into a virtual reality program in order to face off with a virtual villain, SID 6.7, played by Crowe. The film attempted to ride an early nineties fad that believed virtual reality was going to be the wave of the future. It is both fortunate and unfortunate that virtual reality has not become an actual reality, and Virtuosity looks quite dated a decade later.
The reason why I bring this forgotten film up is the way the film chose to deal with virtual reality operations. The virtual reality users wore the goggles and other VR hardware, but they were suspended above the ground. This apparently gave the users the opportunity to shift their legs anywhere, thus enabling the feeling of real walking, jogging, and even running. There were times when the VR using characters were running in the game, but to those not immersed in the virtual world, it looked like the users were running in place.
Perhaps Virtuosity was the inspiration for the people at Virtual Space Devices, a company that has been working on an omni-directional treadmill since 1996. In case you are wondering, that is a device that works like a traditional treadmill, but instead of always going forward, you can walk in any direction. Supposedly the U.S. Army has been developing this device for the past ten years.
You should definitely watch the video to see a quality demonstration. As you can see, the man is successfully walking in random directions, at varying speeds, and the treadmill seems to be able to keep up. You probably have also noticed the harness to prevent this human-hamster on a flat exercise wheel from tripping.
The only thing I don’t know is how this contraption works. I imagine that Virtual Space Devices probably wants to keep that secret. I remember a concept for Virtual Reality treadmill that would use a big ball under the user so he or she could navigate in any direction, but that creates two problems.
First, the virtual treadmill ball would continue to spin long after the user was done running, which is not like reality at all. I mean, when you stop running, the ground stays still. We all know that.
The second problem is the space required for a virtual reality treadmill ball. A small one would precariously balance the user, so a boulder-sized one would be required. How much space would that take up? Quite a lot.
Hopefully, we’ll see the omni-directional treadmill in the near future. I’ll let you imagine how it will change the world of video games, especially the MMORPGs.