Beyond the Joystick: Companies Building the Future of VR Locomotion

How close are we to walking around a Ready Player One world?
In Ready Player One’s opening act, Steven Spielberg sets the stage for the capabilities of 2045’s VR hardware. We get to see a VR headset, facial tracking gear, haptic gloves and bodysuit, and most importantly for Wade’s sprinting, an omnidirectional treadmill.
The omnidirectional treadmill is a treadmill capable of moving in all directions in response to Wade’s own movements. He walks forward, his avatar walks forward. He wants to zig-zag through a battlefield, no problem, just do so and the treadmill will respond accordingly. The omnidirectional treadmill is one of a handful of locomotion methods shown in Ready Player One’s future world, but are any of these actually possible? How is modern technology setting us up to move around the virtual worlds of the future?
It wasn’t long ago that the best method of moving around games and virtual worlds were two joysticks or a set of keyboard keys and a mouse. With the advent of consumer VR that allows for room scale mobility within virtual environments — the game has changed completely.
No longer is a joystick or a button needed to move your head around. Say you’re in VR and want to look to your left? Just turn your head — it can be that simple. However, even in the largest room scale spaces, there’s limited space to walk around, which forces most developers to implement teleportation systems or smooth locomotion controlled by a joystick. While both are effective at allowing you to move about the VR experience, neither gets us closer to the future depicted Ready Player One.
Fortunately, there are a handful of companies hoping to make this a reality. Let’s take a look at the technology and startups working to bring immersive locomotion to your living room soon.
Infinadeck
Infinadeck is actually the direct omnidirectional treadmill used in Ready Player One. Just like Wade Watts navigates VR in the movie, the “360-degree moving floor allows for true and natural movement.” While the speeds that Wade achieves in the movie may not be achievable right now, Infinadeck is currently launching a Beta Testing and Software Development Program to build the future.

Virtuix
Having had early Kickstarter success, the Virtuix Omni has become one of the more well known omnidirectional treadmills on the market. The Omni enables virtual walking, running, backwards stepping, and strafing in 360-degrees via special shoes that interact with the inverted dome walking surface. Virtuix is currently focused on getting units into arcades around the world, but you can also inquire about purchasing an Omni and accessories through their website.
Cyberith
Cyberith’s Virtualizer omnidirectional treadmill, “enables you to realize free and unlimited movement within your virtual reality projects.” With the harness strapped around your waist, you can interact with the Virtualizer by sliding your feet while walking on a low friction surface. This then translates to a relatable motion in VR. Their current focus is providing VR locomotion to professionals and businesses.
KATVR
Offering several different models to serve an assortment of users, KATVR is producing omnidirectional treadmills with a focus on gaming. Their products also feature an inverted domed surface with special shoes, as well as an unrestricted experience via their adaptive tension design. The KAT WALK mini recently went on pre-order sale via their website.
VirZOOM
With triggers and buttons built directly into the handle bars, VirZOOM is a virtual reality bike company developing next-generation workouts for health and fitness centers. Just by pedaling, you can flap the wings of a Pegasus, meander down a river via paddle boat, or competitively race in a cycling video game. VirZOOM is bridging the gap between video games and working out, giving you an immersive experience that should have you breaking a sweat.
VRGo
VRGo is a virtual reality chair that replaces the controller with the tilting and spinning of a chair, giving you a hands free VR experience. Compatible with Windows VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR headsets, the VRGo chair also acts as a convenient storage device.
3dRudder
Designed to be used while seated, 3dRudder is a foot controlled device featuring 4 axes to enable forward/backward, left/right, rotational, and a special up and down movement. The 3dRudder hardware device frees your hands while you use your Windows, HTC Vive, or Oculus Rift headset.
Driving and Flight Simulators
Having embedded themselves in traditional gaming, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-And-Stick) and Racing Wheels and pedals have both also been brought into VR gaming. While both are rarely used for walking/running locomotion, they are a standard improvement for driving/flight simulations.
Free Roaming Areas
Why use a device to simulate walking when you can actually walk around? Companies like VRcade and The VOID have built large areas that are then recreated perfectly in the virtual world. With a big enough space, they’re able to enable casual locomotion around the areas. With the SteamVR 2.0 upgrades enabling less expensive, larger tracked spaces and advances in wireless VR tech, we’ll likely see this become more and more common.
Do any of these bring the realism that we see in Ready Player One? Maybe not today, but they are laying the foundation for reaching that future. Today you’ll find many of these in arcades and corporate offices, but give these startups a few years to optimize the technology and bring costs down — then you’ll see them appearing in more and more homes.
If you’re a company working on VR locomotion and weren’t named, reach out or leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
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