Last week we brought you an exciting new VR device called the Omni. The hybrid VR treadmill device has many applications, one of which allows gamers to “walk freely and naturally in virtual environments.”
(If you haven’t had a chance to see the Skyrim demonstration video yet, you can do so here.)
The Omni is created by Virtuix and we recently had a chance to talk to CEO Jan Goetgeluk about the project including more details on how it works as well as the practicality of such a device in the living room.
Goetgeluk says “The immersion of physically walking around in a virtual environment is mind blowing,” and that “Virtual reality is the future.”
We also have some exclusive new images of the latest prototype below. These are early prototype images and don’t represent the final product but do give us a better idea than what we see in the latest video footage.
JHS: What is Omni? Can you explain briefly what we see in the latest video footage? (Is that just a regular controller in his hands?)
Jan Goetgeluk: The Omni is an omni treadmill for use in virtual reality applications. The user can walk freely and naturally on the Omni in 360 degrees. We are currently using a Microsoft Kinect to translate the movements of the user to movements of the avatar in the virtual world. In the video, I am walking around in Skyrim and holding an XBOX controller in my hands to control game actions beyond body movements. The immersion of physically walking around in a virtual environment is mind blowing. Your brain believes you are in a different place.
JHS: Is this a practical device in terms of people using it in there living rooms for gaming?
JG: Yes, our three main objectives were to develop a locomotion device that is affordable to household consumers, fits in a living room, and enables free and natural walking. The prototype in the video is big and clunky, but the actual Omni will be much smaller and lower. Our latest prototype (right) is going in the right direction. The Omni will be easy to disassemble and store away in order to fulfill the so-called “wife acceptance” factor.
JHS: What are some of the other interesting possibilities the Omni could present for gamers that we don’t see demonstrated in the video?
JG: In the latest video, the Kinect is only recognizing basic walking motion. We are working to improve our software and implement additional moves: jumping, strafing (side-ways stepping), running, crouching and even hand/arm movements. The Omni allows for running, jumping, backwards stepping, etc., so implementing these movements into the game experience would only increase the immersion. In the future, we aim to decouple the looking direction from the walking direction and even the weapon aim direction.
JHS: How do the folks at Virtuix feel about next-gen gaming hardware like the recently revealed Playstation 4. Can we expect to see Omni supported Playstation 4, Xbox 720, and PC games in the future?
JG: We sure hope so. The Omni in its current form is pure hardware, without any electronics. Any tracking tool (such as the Kinect) can be used to translate the movements of the Omni user to the movements of the avatar in the virtual environment. The Omni is independent of any processing unit or game environment. Initially we will provide basic Kinect support software, but we will certainly take a look at some of the more recent tracking devices that have come out.
JHS: How is the Kinect being used in the recent demonstration video you released?
JG: Our software translates the Kinect input into keyboard strokes that steer the avatar in the game. For example, walking forward will generate a “W” key stroke. As such, any game that uses keyboard input can be played with the Omni.
JHS: Can you talk a little bit about what the final product could look like?
JG: The Omni will come in three parts: the platform itself, specialized Omni shoes or strap-ons, and a waist support belt to provide safety and support. We are currently preparing detailed CAD drawings of our final design; the attached (right) is an older sketch, but might hint at what to expect. We strive to make the Omni as compact and comfortable as possible. The waist support ring will be adjustable in height to accommodate both young teenagers and full grown men. Easy assembly/disassembly/storage and comfortable access and use are critical.
JHS: In terms of gaming, it seems as though the Omni could work regardless of whether or not a game’s developers actually built-in support for it, do you see the Omni being a device that could be used for any game? or just specific titles?
JG: Yes, the Omni can be used with any game, any processing unit or any tracking system. That being said, I prefer to use the Omni with games that allow you to walk around and enjoy the beautiful scenery around you. Skyrim is a great example. First person shooters are fun too, but to increase the experience, we need to decouple the looking direction from the walking direction and even the gun aiming direction. Then you would have true virtual reality. We are working on that.
JHS: Have you guys had any specific interest from major game developers/publishers?
JG: Not yet. We are in the early stages of publicly disclosing our work and progress. We look forward to starting conversations with game developers and hearing their feedback.
JHS: Besides gaming, what are some of the more exciting applications for the device? Have you tested any other applications for Omni?
JG: We aim to get virtual reality beyond gaming. Some exiting non-gaming applications include VR fitness and exercise, virtual tourism, virtual events, training and simulation, virtual workplaces, virtual meet-ups and multi-person adventures, … the possibilities are limitless. We are in conversations with several companies that develop 3D visualization software and applications for training, simulation, virtual events, and even architectural walk-throughs. I have tried their software applications with the Omni – it is fascinating. Virtual reality is the future.