The VR Walker is a hardware device that aims to solve one of the trickiest problems of Virtual Reality (VR).
The problem can be stated simply. If you are "in" a virtual environment, how do you walk around in there without walking around in real life as well?
Virtual Reality exists on two levels simultaneously; the fantasy world and the real world. The world of fantasy is intangible, consisting (more of less) of coloured blobs in front of your eyes. The physical world, as we all know well, involves furniture. Limitations. Walls. Windows. Stuff that you don't want to go crashing into ... especially when you can't see it, but are seeing that you are somewhere else! Do that and you are going to hurt yourself, eventually.
Mediating between these two worlds, bringing the fantasy into our realm of the physical, is the job of VR hardware. When it comes to the problem of walking, we need a mechanical interface between our legs and the ground beneath them, to enable us to walk in the real world but only travel in the virtual world. In the real world we want to be safely immobilised. We don't want to move around. We want to be in the same place when we finish as when we started. But, we do want to be able to actually walk.
We want to be able to go through the normal natural motions of walking around, and have our walking motions control our position within the virtual world. We want to feel like we are walking and we want it to look like we are walking. Once this happens the brain will accept the simulation as "real" and we will then be able to navigate the space without consciously thinking about it. Our goal is to have this happen for a new user, with the first step.
Several treadmill-based solutions have been proposed, but none of these have really hit the mark in terms of usability and low cost. They all tend to be relatively large and complicated. Not at all the sort of thing that you'd buy in a department store to take home. Most weigh over a ton.
The VR Walker has taken an entirely different design approach to the problem of virtual navigation.
Instead of putting the smarts in the ground, we put the smarts on your feet, so the clever bit is always between your foot and the ground. It's a pair of shoes ... shoes that are functionally equivalent to an omni-directional treadmill. You can't step off it, any more than you can step out of the shoes you are probably wearing right now, so it's small in size and it's always where it needs to be, just at the right time ... on the end of your leg.
It's motorized and controlled with an array of sensors. The sensors tell the shoe modules what to do to keep you from travelling through space as you go through the natural walking motion. The information that controls the shoes is also fed into the simulation, to update your position appropriately, so that it looks like you are walking and it feels like you are walking. The end result is a system that makes walking around in virtual environments very much like walking around in the real world.
This demo of the 5 tracker STEM System demonstrates very clearly the need for a locomotion (walking) interface.