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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, 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.

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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  • 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...

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.