WizDish offers moonwalking solution to virtual reality immersion


October 16, 2012

WizDish in action: in front of a television set accommodating a gamer wearing a VR headset

WizDish in action: in front of a television set accommodating a gamer wearing a VR headset

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Virtual reality has always felt like it's on the cusp of becoming huge, but it has never quite managed to gain the momentum needed to put it in the hands of the mainstream. But with the original Wii showing the way, and both PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect following in its footsteps, the signs are that we're moving away from traditional gaming and towards a future dominated by alternative ways of interacting with virtual worlds. The final piece of the puzzle in bringing VR to the masses could be a simple and affordable method for allowing gamers to move around safely while they have headsets strapped to their faces. The WizDish aims to be just such a device.

The WizDish is a small dish-shaped platform that allows gamers to walk around their virtual reality playgrounds. Perhaps "moonwalking" would be a more apt description, as the user slides on the slick concave surface of the dish to move their on-screen avatar around. It was created by Julian Williams before being fine-tuned by physicist Dr. Charles King. Williams owns the patent on the WizDish design.

The theory behind WizDish is that removing the vertical movements we make when we walk doesn't take anything away from the feeling of motion. So creating a platform that the gamer ensconced in a virtual reality environment can slide on means removing the need for them to actually walk anywhere. Williams states that WizDish makes it safe to walk, run, jump, and turn, as well as stop and start moving, as the game dictates. The methodology is demonstrated in the video at the end of the article.

The general consensus amongst those who have seen WizDish in action is that, while it's far from perfect, it is a good solution to the problem. There are some glaring concerns: safety (especially mounting and dismounting the platform), how tiring the sliding motion could prove to be, and the need for an external motion detection system. That latter point is both the strength and weakness of this WizDish, as having no moving parts keeps things simple and (hopefully) affordable, but also means that its worth is invariably tied to another product.

There are a host of different VR motion products vying for the chance to be the one solution to rule them all – the Stringwalker, Powered Shoes, CyberWalk, and VirtuSphere all having been previously covered here on Gizmag – and WizDish joins that growing list of options.

We don't yet know how much the WizDish would cost to buy were it to become available to ordinary gamers, but Williams has suggested that a successful Kickstarter campaign that generated the right number of pre-orders could keep the price to “just a few hundred dollars each.” Which may not be particularly cheap, but is certainly a lot more affordable than any of the omni-directional treadmills currently being touted as viable options. In the meantime, researchers and developers are invited to contact Williams via the WizDish website.

Source: WizDish via RoadToVR

About the Author
Dave Parrack Dave is a technology journalist with a ravenous appetite for gadgets, gizmos, and gubbins. He's based in the U.K., and from his center of operations writes about all facets of modern and future technology. He has learned more in his five years writing for the Web than he did in 11 years at school, and with none of the boring subjects thrown in to the mix. All articles by Dave Parrack

Pretty soon, a team of really smart guys and/or gals will come up with a VR system that just hooks up to a smartphone or tablet-sized device and generates a virtual game world from the reality around us. We won't need intermediary devices like this because we'll be able to just go to the park or the halls of our own home to engage in reality-augmented virtual entertainment, or RAVE. I look forward to this future - and if I'm lucky, I might even be a part of creating it.

Joel Detrow

Joel, I was thinking of a similar idea. In the future with google glass or other augmented reality displays, everyone could have their own AR overlayed on every building. This would allow everyone walking down a city street to see a different scene. Users could subscribe to user-created overlays of all buildings to make them glass and steel, for instance, while other users might prefer seeing a wide variety of building styles, instead of brick everywhere. Streets and other infrastructure could be "vectorized" (crack removal) for more aesthetic appeal. Only the basics of moving people, vehicles and basic structure of sidewalks might remain untouched by the augmented reality overlay. However, this is a slippery slope towards The Matrix, and I'd rather focus on improving the real world.

Steve Pender

I've been thinking about this problem also, but no offense to the creator but I don't think it's the solution people would want.

If I'm working in VR game, I want to feel like I'm actually walking naturally as I would in the real world. This foot sliding action is not normal. Sure it might find a limited market, but I wouldn't be a buyer of this product.

John Stone

@Joel Detrow & Steve Pender: The idea with these "remain still" -type of solutions is to enable one to enjoy the virtual reality SAFELY from home. That means more protection from stalkers/rapists and generally more comfort from the fact that you're indoor and possibly even at home. No rain to fry your electronics and no storm to endanger your life. No need to avoid traffic either.

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