Virtual reality headsets, such as the Samsung Gear VR, are becoming more commonplace as manufacturers augment hardware, researchers improve technology, and designers create more virtual experiences. But if you want full-body virtual immersion, treadmills are one way to go. And the latest omnidirectional treadmill, the Kat Walk, provides greater freedom of movement with less constraints.
The Virtuix Omni is one of the best-known VR treadmills, launching on Kickstarter in June, 2013. There are other virtual reality treadmills either under development, such as the Cyberith Virtualizer, or in prototype phases, such as the Space WalkerVR. But the common aspect of each of these is that they resemble an adult-sized baby walker. The Kat Walk takes a different approach, by ditching constrictive rings and excessive harnesses.
There are no rings or barriers to hinder movement, so users are free to gesticulate body parts without fear of smacking against something. The built-in harness system is designed to accommodate different body shapes while supporting weight up to 308 lb (140 kg). While other virtual reality treadmills require users to remain standing, the Kat Walk permits sitting, making it ideal for racing or aviation games.
The Kat Walk features embedded sensors that track user movement, translating it to in-game actions. In addition to the less-restrictive open structure, the team is designing a more realistic way of walking. Users will wear special shoe covers that are better at simulating the natural forces of walking. The combination of a high-friction surface with the rolling friction of the shoe covers reportedly makes movement more like walking and less like sliding. This will help reduce the learning curve while helping users maintain better balance.
The design team behind Kat Walk has plans to make it home-friendly. They're looking to ship a product that weighs around 165 lb (75 kg) with an outer diameter of 40 in (101 cm). If they're successful, the structure will also be narrower and foldable, and the base will be thinner with hidden wheels for easy movement. And if that isn't homey enough, backers have the option of adding a swing chair so the Kat Walk can double as furniture.
Kat Walk is currently funding on Kickstarter, having raised 111 percent of its US$100,000 goal in a month, with eight days left to go. The current available pledge options for Kat Walk start at $599, complete with the platform, harness and sensors, and shoes. Users can add $29 for an extra pair of shoes and $149 for the hanging chair.
If all the product engineering, tooling, pre-producting testing, and production goes as planned, backers can expect shipments of the Kat Walk to start sometime in April, 2016. Check out the video below to see the Kat Walk virtual reality treadmill in action.