An apparatus that would enable users to tread through a VR world and experience the physical properties such as texture, rigidity and undulations of virtual surfaces.
Allowing users to walk around in a VR environment presents with great scopes of opportunities in various disciplines of our daily lives, bringing accessibility to all. Though the idea itself isn’t new, researchers and designers are yet to realise it into feasible products that could be adopted at reasonable scales.
VR treadmills’ reliance on hefty and expensive mechanical setups keeps it out of reach for most, hindering adoptablity. This is often aggravated by the lack of intuitiveness; the unnatural treading experience takes away from the immersion.
In order to materialise a product that could bring real value to society, we believe there are two main areas that need attention. The first one would be addressing the sense of immersion; a treading experience while traversing through a virtual world should feel as intuitive as walking in a park, and not like skating on ice. The way users have to direct muscular forces while walking, and the feedback sensed by the user should be as natural as possible. The users should be able to distinguish different textures, rigidity, slopes, slipperiness, and other properties of virtual surfaces. The second aspect would be the ease of adoptablity of the product; the design has to be something that can be made accessible to any average user, and not be a niche luxury toy.
Designs & Developments
So far, we haven’t successfully developed a design that would be easily adoptable at a reasonable scale. However, we have broken through to a few mechanisms that allow for levels of immersion previously abstruse. One feature involves having the ability to control the relative friction between the user’s footwear and the ground unit. Another feature is the ability to provide the user’s sole with somatosensory feedback in the form of comminuted touch and pressure responses.
The granular control of frictional force and the soles’ feedback, together, would allow developers to enable an extremely realistic sense of walking over different types of virtual surfaces. The development is being supported by a few partner firms that specialise in showcasing architectural and interior designs, as well as firms that specialise in virtual on-site training.
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