In recent years, we've seen a number of virtual reality (VR) devices targeted at bringing more immersive gaming to the home while also adding locomotion to the mix. Joining the charge is the Virtualizer from Austrian-based company Cyberith. The rig features an omni-directional treadmill, which is nothing new, but in addition to letting gamers walk and run on the spot, it also lets them rotate, jump, crouch, kneel and even sit down, with these motions matched in game by their virtual selves.
Cyberith's Virtualizer has been designed to be compatible with various head-mounted displays, such as Oculus Rift goggles, along with various gaming guns and controllers, like Nintendo’s Wii remote. Teamed with a pair of stereo headphones and haptic feedback to add both aural and physical dimensions to the illusion, the creators believe that the Vitualizer is the most immersive VR experience available.
Central to the device is the base plate, which looks a lot like the WizDish platform we looked at back in 2012, and can support weights of 120 kg (265 lb). It contains integrated optical sensors to precisely determine foot movements, while sensors in the support pillars determine a user’s vertical position. The base plate is coated with a very low friction material so that socks are the only footwear required to get up and running (and gunning) – which will probably be a relief to roommates and neighbors who like their peace and quiet.
The other major component of the Virtualizer is the movable ring contraption into which the user is strapped. Other VR systems, such as the Virtuix Omni use similar ring devices, however, the Cyberith team says their system allows even more input range, with users able to rotate, jump, crouch, kneel and sit down.
It's worth noting that the team behind the Virtuix Omni, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Virtualizer, are also working on adding crouching functionality to their device. However, they admit that it is beyond their reach at the device's current price point. So, if the Cyberith device works as promised and meets its planned release date, it may well be the first commercially-available system to do so at a reasonable price.
The Virtualizer rig might appear cumbersome to use, but the team say they have developed a special counterbalance weight system and a set of linear guides in the surrounding columns that ensure both minimum resistance and smooth operation. The harness also serves to support the user’s weight in a sitting position as well, so that the immersive illusion is not disrupted when the operator gets into a virtual car or mounts a virtual motorcycle in game.
The Virtualizer creators have also claimed a first with the integration of haptic technology into their omni-directional treadmill. This optional extra uses acousto-haptic devices to precisely direct haptic feedback to the feet that matches the direction of a noise or vibrational source in the game.
The team states that it is also not necessary for the software being used to support native haptic feedback as their system is designed to pick up audio signals from the game engine and transform those into haptic feedback. Though the entire system is touted as s USB plug and play device that uses USB power to operate, adding the haptic feedback option means that an additional power supply is required.
The Virtualizer software is also designed to track the virtual and real distances covered by the user whilst walking or running, which then allows analysis of calorie consumption and average speed. With an upcoming Software Development Kit (SDK), due to be available by the end of 2014, and a software interface that allows a choice of emulating a controller or a keyboard, the team believes that their device can be made compatible with almost any bespoke or commercial software.
The upshot of all this is that the Virtualizer also has the potential to be used in simulations other than games, such as virtual tours, education, and training applications.
Already awarded a number of prizes in the virtual and software arenas for its prototypes, the Cyberith team launched a Kickstarter campaign this week to help bring a commercial version to market. Prices start at US$599 for a standard Virtualizer rig without sensors, while $999 is the minimum price for a model including haptic feedback. If all goes to plan, deliveries are slated to begin in March 2015.
The video pitch below shows the Virtualizer in action.
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