Ladies and gentlemen, some 20 years after first seeing people jog stupidly on the spot while wearing a large headset and a glove, the future of gaming is finally here...
The Omni, an omnidirectional treadmill from Virtuix that allows you to walk, run, or strafe comfortably in any direction. Combined with a virtual reality headset like the Oculus Rift, the Omni allows for the most immersive (and exhausting) gameplay yet devised.
At this point, you should watch at least the first two videos below. The first is a full-blown example of someone using the Omni and Oculus Rift to play Team Fortress 2.
The second gives you a much better idea of how the Omni actually works. The third video is the Omni being used to walk around Skyrim’s world of Tamriel, which is probably a lot more relaxing than running away from rockets and sticky bombs like a lunatic.
Have a look for yourself...
As you can see in the second video, the Omni – rather unbelievably – has no moving parts. Instead, the Omni is fashioned out of a low friction surface with radial grooves, and the user wears special low friction shoes with a “plunger pin” that slots into the grooves. Combined with the waist support assembly, this setup allows for comfortable, assured, hands-free walking, running, strafing (side-stepping), and even jumping.
If you’re wondering about the wizardry and witchcraft employed by Virtuix to track your movements with a sheet of grooved plastic, don’t worry: So did we. The Omni actually uses a Kinect, connected to a PC, to track your movements.
And therein lies the crux: As you have probably surmised, the Omni isn’t a finished product. At the moment, the Omni is essentially a few sheets of plastic nailed onto a platform made out of two-by-fours; without an external Kinect sensor and a VR headset, the Omni does nothing.
To create the final, commercial product – which will feature integrated movement tracking – Virtuix is hoping to launch a Kickstarter campaign in May. It isn’t entirely clear how Virtuix will accomplish movement tracking without Kinect, but it probably involves the special shoes that Omni users must wear. There’s no word on pricing, but we’re probably looking at anywhere between $200 and $500 (£130 to £330), depending on how much hardware they cram into it.
Irrespective of price, though, the real innovation here is true, 360-degree locomotion, on a platform that’s just 48in (1.2m) across. This is more a feat of mechanical engineering than anything else. There are other omnidirectional treadmills (ODTs), of course, but historically they have been huge, expensive, mechanised pieces of kit that are generally found in military research centres. The Omni would be the first ODT that is small enough and cheap enough to find its way into your living room (or basement, perhaps).
It’s also important to stress that the Omni isn’t just a gaming peripheral. Just as you can walk around Skyrim and take in the sights, you can imagine walking around a virtual Rome or London or New York, or running through the wilds of Alaska. For companies/institutions with telepresence robots, the Omni would allow you to physically walk around your office from home. Physiotherapists might even prescribe the use of the Omni at home, for those recovering from leg injuries, or knee/hip replacements.