Though we’ve been covering the Virtuix Omni since the beginning, I never got a chance to slip on the shoes and try it for myself. Last weekend I finally got that opportunity and also spoke with Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk to get the latest on the omnidirectional VR treadmill.
For those just joining us (welcome!), the Virtuix Omni is an omnidirectional VR treadmill—a passive unit with no moving parts that enables a player to walk, run, and jump in any direction. Virtuix raised money to produce the Omni with a spectacularly successful Kickstarter back in June that raised $1.1 million dollars; 739% of the $150,000 goal.
I met up with the Virtuix crew at Engadget Expand NY 2013 last weekend to finally try out the Omni for myself.
Currently, Virtuix is using a Kinect to do rudimentary leg tracking on the Omni. There’s no variable movement speed, no independent look/walk direction, and then there’s the sloppy tracking that Kinect is known for. The Kinect is soon to be discarded in favor of Virtuix’s own custom capacitive tracking solution, which the company says will fix all of the aforementioned Kinect woes. Developers will be able to see where your feet are, how fast they’re moving, and in what direction.
Assuming that’s all going to work, all I needed to know was whether or not the locomotion really worked… and I’m happy to report that it does.
It takes a few minutes of training to understand how to walk on the Omni, but once it clicks, you’re ready to start running around virtual worlds.
I’m extremely excited for omnidirectional treadmills like the Omni. It’s one thing to sit in your chair with an HMD and have it look like you’re in a virtual space. It’s another thing to sprint full speed toward an enemy with virtual guns ablazing.
That’s actually the first thing I did as I tried the Omni. Pulse Rifle in hand, I sprinted right toward my first foe in Half-Life 2 (2005) and gunned him down; it was quite satisfying. Combining the emotional intensity of gaming with physical intensity will be huge for immersion (and exercise).
The Kinect tracking did make things feel goofy in the game due to its limited implementation; detecting small movements is not its forte. I’m withholding judgment on the tracking aspect until we see Virtuix’s proper capacitive foot tracking. For now I’m happy to know that the walking and running motions work.
And for those wondering, yes, it is a workout! In modern shooters today, players cover probably tens if not hundreds of miles on foot over the course of a campaign. With the Virtuix Omni, you’ll be walking each step with your character! Seriously though… Omni game developers will need to design carefully so that the player isn’t expected to have the endurance of a professional marathon runner.
The Omni is ripe with potential for the gamification of exercise and I’m looking forward to going on virtual hikes around the world from the comfort of my home.
“We Sell Omnis Every Day…”
Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk, told me in our interview (above) that people are pre-ordering Omnis every day through Virtuix’s website (3:39). For a fairly expensive and niche product, that was quite surprising to me. But I’m glad to hear it, a strong developer community will be needed if the omnidirectional treadmill is going to secure its place as a staple of VR gaming.
As with many Kickstarter projects, Virtuix has experience some schedule slippage. Goetgeluk told me that while all minor Kickstarter rewards have been shipped (except the mini-Omni), the earliest shipments of the Omni itself have moved from January to March–April (1:51).
TraVR is a game currently in development by Virtuix which will run on the Oculus Rift alone or with the Oculus Rift and the Omni. Goetgeluk told me that the game is coming along well and actually thinks that “it will be among the top games made for the Rift in general,” sounds ambitious (2:04)! Goetgeluk also mentioned that they plan to bring some new demo videos showing the Omni in use with Battlefield 4 and/or Call of Duty: Ghosts… hopefully with the new capacitive tracking.