Omni-directional treadmills promise to take things a stationary step further than current motion controllers, such as the Wii-mote, PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect, by translating movements to an onscreen avatar as users walk and run on the spot. The Omni from Virtuix is one such treadmill aimed at home users and its creators recently demonstrated its use with the Oculus Rift, providing a tantalizing glimpse of its potential to provide an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience and really get gamers moving.

Similar in form to the WizDish and Stringwalker, and much more compact than the CyberWalk platform, the Omni features a sloped octagonal platform topped with a low friction surface. Unlike the aforementioned WizDish, which requires users to “moonwalk” across its slick surface, the Omni requires the user to wear special shoes that have a low friction sole and a plunger pin that fits into radial grooves on the surface of the treadmill.

Virtuix says this plunger pin/groove arrangement allows for a more natural and steady gait by stabilizing the feet and preventing them from sliding sideways. Additional stability is provided by the device’s waist support ring and belt that help the user walk on the Omni hands free. The ring is height adjustable and the belt will come in various sizes to accommodate teens to adults.

While the Omni comes with tracking hardware and software to recognize a user’s movements and translate them into mouse and keystrokes to steer an avatar in a virtual environment, it does require a few additional bits and pieces. Users will have to supply their own VR glasses, wireless controller and a processing unit – the current version uses a PC but the Virtuix team says it will work with any gaming platform, including PlayStation and Xbox consoles, providing the support software gets developed.

While the team hopes that software support for other platforms can be built in the future, development is currently focused on PC, with Virtuix currently developing tracking and gesture recognition software for that platform. The company is also looking at decoupling the looking direction from the walking direction and even the gun aiming direction to improve the first person shooter experience.

The Omni software currently recognizes walking and sprinting, with the tracking system able to sense walking speed to provide the potential for 1:1 pace synchronization. Virtuix says the device also supports jumping and strafing.

While it works with a Kinect sensor, the Omni does feature an integrated motion tracker that recognizes some basic arm movements to emulate the swinging of a sword or drawing of a bow, and also enables virtual crouching by bending over.

The current prototype measures 48 inches (122 cm) in diameter, but the Virtuix team is hoping to cut this down further for the release model. The Omni is also designed to be easily disassembled for easy storage with the safety and support assembly able to be removed and the platform expected to come in two separate halves.

Virtuix hopes to launch a Kickstarter campaign in May to get the Omni into production and told The Verge it is aiming for a US$400 to $600 price tag.

The video below of the Omni being used with the Oculus Rift to play Team Fortress 2 gives an indication of the Omni’s potential for bringing VR gaming to the masses, with Virtuix also touting its potential exercise, virtual tourism, training and simulation, teleconferencing and virtual workplace applications.

Sources: Virtuix, The Verge, via Mashable

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