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Virtuix Omni is a Step Toward True Virtual Reality Gaming (Video) 87

Posted by Roblimo
from the let's-meet-on-the-holodeck-at-2100 dept.
The Virtuix Omni "is an omnidirectional treadmill video game peripheral for virtual reality games currently in development by Virtuix," says Wikipedia. With this device and an Oculus Rift, Razer Hydra or a similar "immersive" headset, you can play games equipped to use these devices with your whole body moving in any direction you choose. If you think you saw this product on the Shark Tank TV show or a pitch for it at Kickstarter.com, you're right. You did. The Virtuix Omni people have been pushing their product hard, everywhere they can. Tim ran into their product manager, Colton Jacobs, at the recent AppsWorld conference in London. This video is Tim's record of their conversation.


Tim:
So Colton, what are we looking at here in your booth here at Apps World?

Colton:Yes, so we are looking at the Virtuix Omni – it is a virtual reality interface that is going to allow you to run, walk, jump in the real world and have your movements translate in the virtual world.

Tim:Alright. Now, over here we have a willing victim with an Oculus headset and running around in the base. Talk about what the base is made of.

Colton:Sure, so the base is a proprietary type of material. He is actually wearing these special shoes. The shoes are the same kind of material in the bottom as the base that he is walking on. So it basically makes it almost a frictionless free surface. So all he has to do is lean forward, put his weight down, and his feet are going to slide back. It basically mimics a treadmill without having any moving parts. And so that’s what makes it feel very natural and also allows us to track their movements and put it into anykind of virtual environment or PC game that uses WASD or the arrow keys.

Tim:So the output is really that simple?

Colton:It really is. Again, we are playing here Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2, and really we can play almost any PC game that uses the keyboard for movement. And so you can play all your favorite games.

Tim:Now this was a Kickstarter project, at least in part. Talk about that process.

Colton:Oh, the Kickstarter community is amazing.Very great early adopters, and very supportive. We actually raised over $1 million in Kickstarter, so we can’t thank our Kickstarter supporters enough. They are the reason that this has come into existence. And so through that process, we are now able to start the company, and we are getting our mass production up and running now. For a timeline, we are going to be shipping Kickstarter units around January-February. And we are taking pre-orders on our website right now. Those are shipping around March-April timeline. So really this is coming into existence in 2014.

Tim:Now people are going to be able to put these in their basements, either they are going to put them in arcades, what are some of the uses you envision for this?

Colton:I am sorry.Can you repeat that one?

Tim:I said what are some of the uses that you envision. People can put them in their basements, they can put them in arcades.

Colton:Oh sure, absolutely. So again, the first market we are kind of going into is the video game market. It is because again we integrate so easily with that. But there are lots of other professional applications, for example, virtual architecture, simulation and training as well as virtual tourism, as well as virtual museums. I mean, just imagine walking around having dinosaurs around you instead of being in a dinosaur museum. So there are a lot of really interesting applications. And I am just really scratching the surface there. There will be more and more to come.

Tim:And as a device, some things actually really call out for a complicated or API of some kind. If your output is that simple, it looks like this is something that could be used to control things, without much the company needing to do much at all.

Colton:So really again, the integration is very simple. All we are doing is installing a driver in your computer, which allows the Omni to be recognized as an input and really when you are walking forward, it is just generating W on a keyboard. So it is the most simple integration that we can possibly make. There will be an SDK that will come along with the Omni later that will allow for more movements to be mapped to the Omni. And that’s for game developers and application developers as well.

Tim:Now some practicalities to this. How heavy is each unit?

Colton:So right now each unit is 110 lbs.That will be the whole unit. It does need to be nice and sturdy at the bottom since you are going to be running and jumping and a lot of complex moves. So it is a nice weight but not excessively heavy.

Tim:And what about the arm and everything else? What comes if somebody orders this? What will the Kickstarter supporters start getting in the mail soon?

Colton:So they are going to get most likely two packages.

Tim:We will walk over here and take a look.

Colton:Sure. So they are mostly going to get two packages where the base itself will be separated. And you will install the base. As you can see, it is separated in separate panels. And those are all installed together. And the arms and the ring will come separate as well. So that’s all the installation that will be needed. And then for storage ease actually, the ring and the arms can actually separate from the base and so it can all fold back, you can go ahead and store it underneath the bed and put the arms and ring in a closet or something like that.

Tim:Now the safety of this, it looks sturdy but it also looks like you need to have the right height – can short people use it?

Colton:Safety is definitely one of our main concerns. Because when you are wearing the Oculus Rift or like virtual reality goggles, you are really blindfolded, and you are also running on a basically treadmill surface, it is a slippery surface, so the harness is really what is the main safety feature. You are wearing a basically a rock climbing harness and that should catch you should you slip and fall as well as the ring. Again like you are seeing, it is very very sturdy. And so that’s what the harness would catch with.

Tim:What is the ring itself made out of?

Colton:The ring itself will be made of steel and plastic. So again, we are looking for steel – something very very strong.

Tim:I overheard you a few minutes ago, saying that you run quite a bit when you play one of these games – how much do you run?

Colton:Honestly, over here, demoing a show like this, we can run upwards of five miles a day.

Tim:Okay. Without going far from your booth here?

Colton:Exactly.We don’t go very far at all. They don’t let us out of the booth.

Tim:Forward motion is about the only thing I see practical on here. Can you do other things, more complex motions, readable?

Colton:Sure. So we are going to be adding integrated tracking into the base, and that is going to actually allow some more of an analog control so we will be able to tell what direction you are moving, as well as how fast you are moving.So that’s what we can add into the game. We want people to be able to know how fast they are going, and then we want the direction to be decoupled from the looking, because right now where he is looking is where he is going. But with more analog control, and built-in tracking we can then separate those two. So you can walk in one direction and look in another direction.

Tim:And the output from this, is it an USB output?

Colton:It can be a simple USB output, as simple it could be.

Tim:Well, this is like a lot of fun to do.

Colton:Oh yeah, definitely, when you are in the virtual world, you really have a hard time coming out.

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Virtuix Omni is a Step Toward True Virtual Reality Gaming (Video)

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  • Slashdot (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ben C. (2950903) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @04:26PM (#45739705)
    If you think you saw this product on slashdot.org, you're right. You did. http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/13/04/22/0145252/omnidirectional-treadmill-the-ultimate-fps-input-device [slashdot.org]
  • And you thought that Dos Santos being a huge playground was a good thing?

  • This comment is me not watching a video while waiting for a damn transcript.
    • Never watch slashdot videos. That's just a rule. It's going to be an advertisment.

      In this particular case, I can't engage in my usual "boycott the advertisers" rule, because I already ordered one of these on the kickstarter.

      • In this particular case, I can't engage in my usual "boycott the advertisers" rule, because I already ordered one of these on the kickstarter.

        So what you're saying if that you have principles, but they take a back seat when they go against your interests.

        Some morals...

        • No, it's that I can't retroactively change my actions to comply with my principals. That's a very different thing.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Becoming literate, look below video see Show/Hide transcript, clicking that. Literacy hooray!

  • "With this device and an Oculus Rift, Razer Hydra or a similar "immersive" headset, you can play games equipped to use these devices with your whole body moving in any direction you choose"

    e.g. left or right on the sofa ^_^

    • The whole point of this thing is to let you get off the couch and moving while gaming, drawing in game motion from real-world treadmill running rather than button mashing from on the couch.

      Smart ass remark score: 0

      • by sgt scrub (869860)

        But my beer is on the end table and my... um sig.. is on the coffee table. I don't see a cup holder or an ash tray.

  • by stewsters (1406737) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @04:50PM (#45739939)
    And you thought Skyrim was big before...
  • by mythosaz (572040) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @04:56PM (#45739999)

    It's not that it's dumb, it's that we're all way, way, way too lazy.

    Dance Dance Revolution died out a while ago. The Wii was amusing for a while, but we just sit and flick now. The Kinect is pretty awesome, but we mostly just want to yell "GRENADE!" at it while slumping and playing shoot-'em-ups. The kids still jump around, but the novelty wears off them quickly too.

    These would be cool in the party bus that entertains kids birthday parties, but that's about it.

    • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:07PM (#45740127)
      You speak only for the stereotypical overweight gamer. Some of us keep fit and look for opportunities to be active while gaming.

      Going for a serious hike while playing a PC game would be an excellent next step beyond what the Wii and 360+Kinect offer. You miss out on how great it can feel to simply be alive and healthy if you let your body go like so many foolish people do.
      • Re:Yeah... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Tom (822) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:12PM (#45740179) Homepage Journal

        You speak only for the stereotypical overweight gamer. Some of us keep fit and look for opportunities to be active while gaming.

        Or, you know, just want to have fun.

        I still play tennis on my Wii with full-motion swings, because it's a lot more fun that way. And I play for fun, not to win (winning is fun, so it's a secondary path, but not the primary goal).

        I would absolutely love to run through Skyrim. Maybe not every morning, but just for the cool factor. Also, I do own a Unity 3D engine. Being able to build your own environment to run around in and stuff? Wow.

        And then... when I go really crazy, I'm imagining playing pen & paper roleplaying games and having something prepared for this for the hacker who goes into the matrix, or the shaman who goes on a dream journey or whatever...

        • Unity3D custom environment with all the pizzaz? TTRPGs with "special features"? Playing for fun?
          You, sir, are cool.

          • by Tom (822)

            It's obviously always a matter of amount of work vs. amount of fun gained, but I regularily spice up my pen&paper RPG sessions with gimmicks. Once made a section of a dwarven mine in Unity 3D and put it up on the video beamer as the group entered and then let them move around in it.

            There's only so much you can do with words when you describe a dark place lit only by the torches the group carries, and the impact to actually have it in front of them - to move forward cautiously as more of the cavern or tu

      • by mythosaz (572040)

        There's interactive workout machines at the gym. There's a whole interactive world out there. It's neat. I've been there (once or twice).

        I'd love for the next-gen Tour de France machine at the gym to include some sort of Oculus setup, but this slippery-not-a-treadmill is destined to become junk in a living room.

        [As a side note, I have already realized my lifelong goal of having as my Tour de France victories as Lance Armstrong.]

        • Many of us have no desire to pay for and go to a gym, prefering solitary workouts, so something like this at home is much better for us than something at a gym.

          Who says it goes in the living room? I have a space at the back of my home-theater that would be perfect for a VR area. Obviously this isn't for everyone, and I don't expect anything like this to catch on with console gaming any time soon, but it's something that many of us have been waiting for.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'm assuming you cheated less to get them as well

          well done!

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Speak for yourself. I play Wii games with as much physicality as possible - that's kind of the whole point. If I just wanted to sit and mash buttons I'd be on the PC.

      And I think you're missing one of the big points here - people are lazy in large part because for a few generations now we've been discouraging children from actually going outside and playing, especially within cities. Couple that with the rise in popularity of TV and video games that make some of the most short-term compelling experiences

      • by mythosaz (572040)

        For all the reasons you mention in your post, this thing will be a flop.

        Aside: We don't believe in the boogeyman. We send our kids out until the street lights come on, the way the FSM intended.

  • There is a strong correlation between time spent indoors and rates of myopia. It's not just a genetic thing that you need glasses. The only thing that's not clear is whether:
    a) eyes' ability to focus on distant objects is atrophying from lack of use, e.g. actually looking at things far away
    or b) low light levels indoors or other properties of artificial light are causing damage
    My preferred explanation is A - an eye physically changes its focus as you look at objects nearer or further. Being in one conf
    • by Immerman (2627577)

      I think in that case the Oculus could actually result in a a lessening of nearsightedness. If I recall correctly the optics in the Dev kit are calibrated so that your eyes can relax and focus at 80 feet. When is the last time most people, especially gamers, spent much time focused on anything that far away? Certainly not often when indoors. In fact it might even end up going to the other extreme and promoting far-sightedness among heavy users as the muscles needed to focus up close atrophy. In practice

      • Your eyes "focus" at 80 feet only in the parralax sense, not in terms of the actual optics of your eye. There is no actual way to simulate different depths in this way, other than with a physical lens.
        • Assuming that it works similarly to Sony's HMD, it will use lenses to actually make your eyes feel like they're focusing on a distant object. I wish they didn't, since this means I have to wear glasses under the HMD, when normally I just need glasses for driving.
        • by Immerman (2627577)

          Not at all - I'm not discussing the stereoscopic depth effects at all - just the optical pathway between the screen and your eye. As I understand it the lens system in the dev kit requires your eye to focus at 80' at all times in order to bring the screen into focus. If you think about it it's pretty obvious that this thing must be possible - the screen is actually only a couple inches from your eye, closer than most people can focus comfortably, if at all. If it weren't possible to artificially increase

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            That is to say. yes, you are absolutely correct, but your point has no bearing on my own.

            • by a4r6 (978521)

              Oh, well now I sorta want one.

              I'm ashamed it never occurred to me they would have lenses like that. Or that I didn't bother to read how they worked before assuming you'd be focusing a few inches from your face...

  • by strack (1051390)
    The Virtuix Omni is a gimmick that is trying to ride the coattails of the Oculus Rifts success. Dont let cheesy crap like this distract from the Oculus. Really the only addon I can see being actually useful for the Rift would be positional controls, like the STEM. But even thats in doubt if Oculus vr release positional controls of their own beside the release of the consumer rift.
    • by weilawei (897823)
      Cheesy gimmick crap? This is a heck of a complement to VR headsets--a crucial, previously missing piece, IMHO.
    • I cannot think of a better addition to it save for a 3d pointing device. (for guns/swords/light sabers etc)

      The immersion factor alone would be worthwhile in of itself but it is not the only benefit.
      It would also turn gaming into a sedentary activity into an exercise regime. For me that would be the primary reason for purchasing this rig.

      Anything that gets people up and moving about is a good thing in the first world and if you can get them waving their arms about to boot it will literally save lives.

      And on

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      On the one hand I'm inclined to agree - certainly it's not something that would see much demand without a VR headset, and it seems like the control system is extremely crude at present.

      On the other hand once you have a decent VR headset then the control system becomes the "bottleneck" on immersiveness. Walking around the virtual world would certainly seem to be a far more immersive experience than diddling a joystick. Certainly I want to at least try it. And it does seem like these folks have come up with

    • by vadim_t (324782)

      No, this kind of thing will be needed.

      The Oculus, as awesome as it is, only works well with linear movement. It's great for space, mech, plane and car sims. Basically any game where you're in a cabin. Once you want to walk around like a real person you find out that you can't turn around, and moving the camera out of sync with the head is disorienting.

      I considered getting an Omni, but in the end decided not to because: it's very heavy and would cost a fortune to ship, it takes a lot of space that I don't ha

  • In the coming years gamers won't have a reputation for being fat, instead they will all be athletic mounds of muscle after chasing down enemy soldiers and dodging alien laser fire.

    • Sorry to ruin your daydream but I think you should really look at examples of the physique of the typical marathon runner...

      If you want "mounds of muscle" you are going to have to lift weights.

      Of course I am not saying that being thin and wiry is not a vast improvement on fat and doughy....

      • by drkim (1559875)

        ...If you want "mounds of muscle" you are going to have to lift weights...

        No reason you couldn't hang progressively larger weights on you hand controller.

  • Wasn't this basically the same as the VR systems they had 10 or so years ago. The large head mounted displays, the circular "area". Think 'Hackers", or this : http://weburbanist.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Virtual-Reality.gif [weburbanist.com]
    • Yes, but the technology is just now catching up to the dream so we can have 1080p large field-of-view head-mounted-displays without excessive motion lag.
      • by Tom (822)

        This. When the first announcement about Occulus Rift was made, I went through the usual Oh-wow-cool-I-want-to-have-one-oh-wait-crappy-resolution-shit-forget-it cycle that I've been through two dozen times over the past 15 years. But then they upgraded the resolution and it's actually starting to be a really interesting option.

    • In much the same way the original cathode ray tube "monitors" were 3x3 pixels and could be used to play tic tac toe.

      Seriously dude - catch up with the modern world...

  • by Bodhammer (559311) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:30PM (#45740397)
    Most of the games they are aimed at have crouch and prone as integral movements. The lack of this in the Omni seems like a deal killer for me. Am I missing something?
    From the FAQ:
    "What movements can you perform on the Omni?

    Besides walking, the Omni allows for running, jumping, and strafing (sideways stepping) in 360 degrees. The Omni software provides gesture recognition that translates movements to mouse and key strokes that steer the avatar in the virtual environment."
    • by RevWaldo (1186281)
      In the TED demo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1niFHFIbD0M) the founder specifically mentions crouching as one of the motions. But yeah, nothing about lying down.
      I was more curious of simulating uphill/downhill motion, like climbing stairs.

      .
      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Oog, now that will be a tough one. I suspect the raw sensory input of the Omni is very much like walking around the world in a giant gerbil ball, and I don't see it getting much better any time soon - at least not in a budget-minded system like this. If instead of a slippery surface you had something like a variable-friction caster plate on hydraulics you could at least give a sense of slope without people sliding of the low side, but stairs? Other than some sort of programmable surface I don't see it ha

      • by drkim (1559875)

        In the TED demo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1niFHFIbD0M) the founder specifically mentions crouching as one of the motions. But yeah, nothing about lying down.
        I was more curious of simulating uphill/downhill motion, like climbing stairs.

        I don't imagine uphill/downhill would be that hard. The Omni could just have three leg/pistons that raise/lower to tilt the platform depending on the direction you're facing.

        There are already treadmills that raise and lower the front end to create more incline.

        I doubt the Omni could simulate stairs as currently designed, though.

  • That's just begging for someone to lose their footing, fall down, and take out half their teeth on the waistband component. Or worse.

    I have a hell of a time finding shoes that fit properly, thanks to "duck" feet (wide forefoot, narrow heel.) Somehow I doubt there are going to be all that many fitting options for the "special shoes" required by this device.

    Ah well, until the lawsuits roll in from the broken teeth and they get banned from the market for all the injuries I'm sure they'll prove quite pop

    • Maybe some research first before assuming you are soooo much smarter than everybody else that you can think of an (stupidly) obvious flaw in 5 mins and that the creators who have spent years developing and testing this have not already solved it.

      Because of course they have.

      Making your comment a moronic troll.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        I watched the video. I saw nothing to suggest they've addressed the problem.

        • There is a belt/harness that prevents you from falling down. You would see that in any of the videos if you paid attention.

          So as I was saying....

          NB: I was not referring to his mutant feet problem - unfortunately you are on your own getting custom shoes made as per usual.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        The only trolling I see is yours. You mention nothing about what they've done for this "research" you mention. You don't point out any scenes in the video to support your theory that they've addressed the concern.

        Instead you just dive right on in to the insults and name calling.

        • There is a belt/harness that prevents you from falling down. You would see that in any of the videos if you paid attention.

          So as I was saying....

          NB: I was not referring to your mutant feet problem - unfortunately you are on your own getting custom shoes made as per usual.

  • Although I am excited to see all these VR technologies, there is a certain irony in taking VR realism to the level in which it reproduces all the annoyances of actual reality, such as having to get up of the couch and physically moving through space in order to get somewhere you want to go.

    Will the first VR video game blockbuster be a virtual gym that you can go to after spending the day at a virtual desk at a virtual workplace?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      >all the annoyances of actual reality, such as having to get up of the couch and physically moving through space in order to get somewhere you want to go.

      You've raised laziness to a new level!
  • by legont (2570191)
    I quit gaming back in late 80's. If this thing really works, I am back. Anybody tried it?
  • Piers Anthony wrote Killobyte in 1993.

    His description of VR is a 3-D fully immersive sensory experience. Users wear a full body suit and have full body tactile feedback. When VR gets there, people will get on board.

    Until then, you have a treadmill with an ultra-close T.V.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @07:07PM (#45741449) Homepage Journal

    Honey, I decided what I want for Christmas...

    Well, you said I should get more exercise, and it'll fit great in your "sewing room" that you haven't used since 1998.

  • Been reading up on these ODT. Sounds cool. While I understand the benefit of adding an Oculus Rift etc., why is that considered a requirement? I'd rather play a FPS using this in front of several screens going nearly 360 degrees, so that I can do true aiming with a gun controller. Shouldn't the HMD be optional? Better yet, come up with an included holo-display that moves with the player.
  • I built something like this at home except I used a large ball on rollers. I like their design better. I was never able to get a reliable way to do crouching and jumping and none of their videos show someone doing it. Are they stuck in the same place I gave up? Anyone see a video with a jump or crouch?

  • Why would I want to actually run around in real life to play Minecraft?

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