Major changes have been made to the Virtuix Omni since we last committed to a wooden prototype back in July 2013. At the time, the Houston-based company was wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign and had plenty of details left on its product, a large standing VR treadmill that a person steps into and runs around with some thing mounted on their head. display attached to his or her face. More than a year later, the near-complete version of the Omni VR treadmill we got to try was leaps and bounds over the prototype we last tried.
The heavy, powder-coated steel device weighs 140 pounds (about 65 kg), according to Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk, and has a flat, segmented plastic surface on which the user can stand while wearing special shoes. The shoes have plastic inserts on the bottom that allow the shoes to glide over the surface of the platform largely without friction. The user’s weight (up to a maximum of 285 pounds, or approximately 130 kg) is supported by a harness that the user straps into, which in turn rests on a waist-high plastic ring that surrounds the wearer. By letting the harness take up most of your weight, you can move your feet back and forth across the surface in a mostly comfortable walking motion; you can also rotate 360 degrees.
Unlike the prototype, which used a Microsoft Kinect to track the user’s movements, the near-final Omni tracks your feet with special inertial-sensor “pods” that clip into the top of the shoes; sensors in the base of the Omni’s buttresses sense your footsteps from the pods’ movements and translate your pace to an analog thumbstick axis. Walk slowly in real life and your in-game avatar will walk slowly. Run, and your in-game avatar will run. The Omni connects to a computer via USB or Bluetooth (PC only, no consoles yet) and presents itself as a standard input device.
We played a short demo where we ran around a building shooting pop-up targets, and the direction the avatar was facing was determined solely by the rotation of the Oculus Rift DK2 attached to the system (the Omni is display agnostic – it can connecting to a variety of different head-mounted displays). Goetgeluk explained that head tracking and directional tracking can be disconnected by developers, but for the CES demo, the company chose to simply let the direction your head is pointing be the direction your avatar is facing.
The demo was probably three minutes long, but in the crowded South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, that was more than enough to make you sweat a bit – it was like I had been sprinting on and off for a full three minutes. minutes (which doesn’t sound like too long, but try it in a warm room – you’ll get a little damp). Most first-person shooter games would offer opportunities for some pretty intense workouts when used with the Omni, which is a potentially interesting avenue for sedentary people who like to game and be more active.
For now, the large device will cost $499, but starting February 1, Virtuix will increase the price to $699. Delivery of the units is expected to start in the first quarter of 2015.