VR hasn't really gotten off the ground yet, so it's a little premature to say that controlling your movement with a game controller is a "problem." But for virtual reality to become more lifelike, it will need more lifelike ways of moving around. Perhaps a small step in that direction is 3DRudder, a pressure-sensitive foot controller for VR gaming.

Unlike the free-roaming HTC Vive or the monstrous VR treadmills, the 3DRudder is meant to be played sitting down. So it doesn't really approximate the feeling of walking; instead it adds just enough foot movement to engage that part of your body, bring it into the fun. It's less like you're walking around in virtual worlds, and more like you're riding a hoverboard (either the fictional Marty McFly type, or the very real, very exploding type that's popular right now).

In our demo, applying pressure with my toes made me move forward, while pressing with my heels kicked it into reverse. Perfectly natural. You can rotate to either side by pressing that one foot alone, which also feels intuitive. The company also threw in a (much less intuitive) flying trigger, which you activate by pressing down with one heel and one toe.

The CES demo was pretty responsive, with greater or lesser degrees of pressure increasing or decreasing speed. 3DRudder is essentially an analog joystick – and technically that's how the paired PC (or whatever device) will interpret it, so compatibility will be wide and it won't need any special software installed. Anything that can use a gamepad should be able to use 3DRudder.

We can't say we walked away from this demo convinced that this is a breakthrough in VR controls, but it did feel a bit more engaging than controlling movement with an analog stick on a gamepad. Though there's no physical sensation of walking, triggering those leg muscles, even in a hoverboard-like way, does slightly add to the sense of presence (feeling of being somewhere else). It would pair very nicely with something like Oculus Touch, which "gives you hands" inside virtual worlds.

If nothing else, it could serve as a short-term fix, in between the era of sitting in a chair VR and the walking around a real space VR that may eventually become more prevalent.

3DRudder is available for pre-order now, for US$175, with the company estimating a March delivery date. That could be right around the time that the first Oculus Rift shipments start arriving.

Product page: 3DRudder

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