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A Letter to the Big “N"
By shandog137
Posted on 09/12/14
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Virtuix Omni: Walking in Real-Life With Oculus Rift

Posted on Saturday, March 22 @ 14:42:55 Eastern by blake_peterson


One of the major problems with VR is the issue of locomotion: How you get the player to move from one location to another, and feel like walking or moving is natural? In the two demos Sony showed on the first day the GDC show floor was open, The Deep and The Castle, neither allowed the character to move much more than leaning forward and turning in place.

Virtuix's Omni is a novel solution created to address this issue. Omni is a static system that allows the user to walk in place. However, rather than using expensive treadmill tech with lots of parts, it uses two elements: a naturally slick surface with shoes designed to slip on it, and a ring with harness that sits around the player to keep them in balance in the center of the device. Omni was funded through Kickstarter, where it exceeded the asked-for $150,000 handily, raising over $1.1 million.

With that established, the Omni is basically a giant touchpad or analog stick input that translates your motion into discrete game input. Depending on the game and the sensitivity of control, that input can be translated broadly or very sensitively. In the "training" application the developers had me run through first, very broad motions and directions were necessary. Later, for the main event, leaning forward was enough for me to inch ahead slightly in the Virtuix booth's first-person shooter demo named TRVR (developed by Virtuix as a stretch goal from the Kickstarter campaign).



It's a little weird to start: Omni isn't entirely like walking naturally. The surface slopes upwards in all directions, so it's like walking up the sides of a bowl, only to have your feet slide down. It requires being very forward-driven and leaning into whatever direction you're walking.

With the Oculus Rift dev kit strapped to my face and my feet sliding along Omni's slick surface, I started their VR shooter demo by following the operative in front of me. It took a while to figure out the control sensitivity of walking using the device, and the game quickly began to creep into reality. Once the lights went down, and I was running from the demon/mutant/possessed enemies, firing frantically, I was no longer even thinking about the control, I was just moving naturally through the environment, trying to establish a safe distance. 

The Omni, though it takes a little adjustment in how you move, definitely works, and helps create a more immersive environment. The unusual nature of the bowl did make my muscles, especially those in my feet, feel tired like they'd worked in a way they weren't used to, so the device takes some adjustment. However, movement, once the action ramped up, became second nature. 
The Omni is available fore pre-order directly from Virtuix's webstore, starting at $499.99 for a single unit, with plans to expand into retail outlets in the future.
Tags:   GDC, VR, Oculus Rift

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