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An Omnidirectional Treadmill Means One Giant Leap for Virtual Reality

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Old 06-12-2008
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An Omnidirectional Treadmill Means One Giant Leap for Virtual Reality
One of the problems with virtual reality has always been that you had to either confine yourself to a joystick or strap into some crazy Lawnmower Man-style harness. Hardly natural. This April, however, a team based at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, unveiled the CyberWalk, an omnidirectional treadmill designed to serve as a VR-capable movement platform.
Treadmills have been tried in VR before, of course, but early models were unconvincing — either too small to keep goggled wanderers on the platform or too slow, bouncy, or gap-ridden to feel the least bit real. The CyberWalk solves these problems with a stiff, gapless, 20 x 20-foot floor and movement and feedback systems that enable quick, fluid changes of direction.
We know what you're thinking: Halo! But gamers must wait. For now, access goes to spatial-cognition and perception researchers, who will use the CyberWalk to "explore all sorts of things we haven't been able to explore before," says William Thompson, a University of Utah computer scientist. In addition to studying our brains and understanding space and movement, they'll assess potential for military and disaster-response operations and see if the device can be used to treat medical issues such as Parkinson's. After that, and only if you're good boys and girls, maybe you'll get to use it for Halo.


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