Combine the WoODT (wooden omnidirectional treadmill) with a VR head-mounted display (HMD) and feet tracking to freely move in a computer-generated virtual reality (VR).
VR HMDs and treadmills open up an endless possibilities for immersive virtual experiences.
With Valve's laser based positional tracking system Lighthouse (included in the upcoming VR HMD HTC Vive) room sized virtual experiences will be possible. The user will be able to move completely naturally around. He will however be limited by the physical boundary of his room. There are some game design tricks to compensate for this limitation but it will remain present.
Omnidirectional treadmills on the other hand will be able to provide intuitive movement which is not limited by any physical boundaries. Exploring huge virtual areas by foot will be possible.
WoODT's design enables maximal arm freedom. Because of the absence of a support ring the user can have his arms in a relaxed and natural position while walking.
The user can freely walk and run in any direction. He can even crouch and sit.
Standing and walking VR - while cabable of increasing immersion - can pose the danger of falling accidents.
WoODT's harness will prevent the user from falling. So while the WoODT slightly resembles gallows it should in fact provide a very safe experience.
Material costs for the WoODT are in the range of only 40€. Building it however needs quite some work. A climbing harness for more comfortable sitting would add another 30-60€. A feet tracking system will also add to the costs. For a full VR experience a VR HMD and a powerful computer (or smartphone) will be needed.
WoODT after 5 minute partial disassembly.
The WoODT might be rather large and won't fit in every living room from an ascetic standpoint. Its footprint however is minimal. Even if fully assembled the space under it can still be used. Partially disassembled the space needed is even further reduced.
On the downside regular full disassembly will not be practical. Additionally, drilling into the wall is necessary.
The counterweight system guarantees that the user does not need to carry the weight of the support structure. In fact even some of the user's own weight can be compensated to enable a “lighter” walking and potentially simulate a reduced gravity. This however has its limitations as to much counterweight will result in an uncomfortably high upwards pull force. A properly designed harness could help but would lead to a much higher price.
For convenience and cost reasons the normal room floor can be used as walking surface. The laminate floor shown in the video and pictures has low enough friction when walking in socks. In case of rougher floor surfaces an adhesive foil could be glued onto the floor.
Currently the WoODT has no tracking system. Hacks using Wii remotes, Kintect or something similar are possible. Commercial feet sensor using Valve's Lighthouse technology would however be preferable. Valve plans to make the Lighthouse technology freely available. Lighthouse feet sensors could therefore become a standard for feet (and body) tracking for VR. They would enable low latency and precise positional tracking of the feet.
Having these feet sensors as standard for commercial and DIY omni-directional treadmills could significantly lower the price point of the treadmills. 1:1 feet tracking could be implemented by game designers. Having a tracking standard for the different treadmills will make this effort more worthwhile and should help the spread of VR treadmills.
It would also have non-treadmill specific advantages. Having your feet perfectly represented in VR should increase the feeling of presence. Additionally the feet could now be used as an additional input: pedal control in vehicles, kicking, stepping on buttons/actuators, etc.
WoODT with four pairs of fans and infrared lamps for omnidirectional wind and heat simulation.
Four pairs of infrared lamps and fans can be used to simulate wind (head wind, weather) and heat sources (sun, fire, ambient temperature) from all directions.
Wind&heat simulation is planned for the not too distant future (“months not years”). The hardware side is already figured out more or less. The software side will probably be more difficult. Games would have to be designed with wind and heat sources - something which might prove difficult with current game engines.
The increased immersion could however be well worth it and I'll try to create a (very) simple demo once the hardware is finished.