Behold The Next Generation VR Technology: Part 5 — Locomotion
Sceptics say current VR headsets are clunky, heavy, uncomfortable diving masks that won’t make their way to people’s homes. Well, I agree, but with one significant exception — the technology is moving lightning fast.
In less than 2 years of VR-consumer-version era headsets became completely wireless, field of view doubled, and the display resolution tripled.
In fact, VR technologies are evolving much faster than consumer versions of headsets can be released.
In the series of weekly articles called “Behold The Next Generation VR Technology” I will guide you through the world of the latest and most promising tech that will finally make VR the next computing platform.
Mostly on the early stage of development, all this tech will be implemented in consumer version headsets during the next 10 years. Some sooner, some later.
I divided this series into parts — one part for every vital aspect of VR technology. This one is about:
The biggest problem with VR technology is the locomotion problem. You have infinite worlds to visit, but ironically you can’t even make two steps to explore them. You are tied to the four square meters playing space of your living room.
Game-designers struggle to solve this issue by making workarounds like teleportation, grabbing and pulling the world, walking with hands and a whole bunch of other weird techniques.
But, honestly, in case of walking with your own feet, only one of them looks promising. It is called “redirected walking.”
Redirected walking is the locomotion technique that tricks player’s mind by rotating the scene slightly less than the player actually does.
That means virtual rotation angle is not equal to real. Instead, a player unknowingly takes extra effort to rotate in reality. And it turned out that our brain doesn’t notice these small adjustments.
As a result, Redirected walking makes players believe they walked long distances while they’ve never left the room.
I am not convinced it will solve the locomotion problem for gamers, because to work this locomotion system still needs more space than most players have.
However, it’s not a dead end. Redirected walking can be definitely used in, for example, rehabilitation, where the patient has to walk long distances every day in a controlled environment.
Ok, what will work for the gamers than? Well, there’s one technology, that looks promising: a treadmill.
But I’m not talking about that retro style treadmills with a moving(or slippery) baseplate, where you are locked to the center by the baby bouncer structure.
The problem with the most of those things is that you have to spend literally a year putting on all the diaper-like ropes and belts, which hold you both from falling and from moving naturally.
But that’s not all. What’s more disappointing about them is that they won’t work without a pair of specific shoes that slide on the slippery floor of the device.
I’ve tested it once and while it indeed allows you to move in the game with your own legs, all that annoying holders reduce immersion considerably. This branch of tech is unquestionably not for home use, and I am not convinced it’ll be successful at VR centers either.
What I’m talking about is something Infinadeck came up with. Apparently, it’s a light in the dark for that locomotion tech that might turn into a rocket exhaustion fire opening new horizons for VR.
Instead of tying you to the center of the treadmill, Infinadeck moves the floor against your motion vector.
For example, when you strafe to the left the floor moves to the right, so you are still located in the middle of a treadmill.
How does the floor knows when you start moving and in what direction? All magic is in the tracking. They use Vive trackers(small trackable sensors, learn more about them here) to track acceleration, speed, and vector of movement of both feet and torso.
To gather this data you have to put a Vive tracker on each foot and one on the waist. And don’t forget about controllers and the headset itself. They have motion sensors too.
Therefore, you get a 6-points trackable system that works fast enough not even to capture the motion, but also to predict next player’s moves.
For example, if it sees a player leans forward and start raising the left foot, it can recognize this action as “started walking.”
I’m not sure if Infinadeck is using any machine learning algorithm or not, but it would be great to have this treadmill learn how people move so it can predict next moves depending on the first millisecond of motion.
And if we go a bit further here, we understand it has to be connected to gameplay.
Imagine playing an experience where you have a bridge in front of you. You have two options, step on it or turn back. And the treadmill understands that! So it’s ready for both actions before you even start walking.
The same algorithm can be applied to all parts of gameplay: if an enemy spawns in front of you, you might make a step back, if something is falling behind you might run ahead. Trained on millions of play hours, with an SDK implemented in most VR experiences and a continuously learning algorithm, the system can become incredibly precise.
However, to convince millions of players they have to deal with a lot of difficulties: size of the device, tracking(the majority of VR owners don’t and won’t have Vive trackers), accuracy, cost and so on. So, I hope they’ll start with VR arcades.
I’m a huge fan of what Infinadeck is doing(and they haven’t payed me anything for the article, btw). They are definitely on the right track. And if their prototype will be successful, it will move the whole industry forward.
Looking ahead, in the 10-year perspective this treadmill will become thinner(well, for sure less than 40 centimeters in height), will get internal motion sensors, MEMS IR emitters, for example(tiny sensor devices, learn more about them here), and will become absolutely unnoticeable while in VR.
Will this bring us closer to total immersion? Will see. But it will obviously make VR gamers as fit as Olympic athletes. Because, you know, walking, running, crouching for 2 hours a day every day will do the trick.
But that’s not all. Some people think that we won’t have to even get up from the couch to play VR in the future. All the sensations, visual images, feelings will be translated straight into our brain. Follow me to not to miss the next episode of “Behold The Next Generation VR Technology,” where we’ll talk about the technology that will finally connect our mind to the virtual world.