Ctrl V - Edmonton: Edmonton West

“How do I move?!” is probably one of the most frequent questions we get from customers at Ctrl V. With movement in VR being one of the primary causes of sickness in users, software and hardware developers alike have been searching for the solution to this problem.

Many in-VR methods exist, including teleportation, vehicles, flight, boosted movement, arm-based movement such as Survios’ Fluid Locomotion™, among others. Unfortunately, many of these methods tend to cause motion sickness or take away from your immersion experience. Today, we will explore the most common hardware-based solution to this problem: VR Treadmills.

Probably the most practical accessory for VR, omni-directional treadmills provide a novel solution to the mobility challenge and space limitations with a tethered, room-scale VR setup.  At the time of publishing this, the Virtuix Omni is by far the most affordable option, and markets itself as specifically designed for the “Commercial Market”.

However, after a brief analysis, it becomes clear why devices like these only provide value to a very small subset of the LBE (Location Based Entertainment) market.  The most common factors include the device requires additional staff time, the device is too expensive, the device is detrimental to the VR experience or the device is a liability risk.  We will examine a variety of currently-available movement “solutions” and explain why they aren’t suited for the typical VR arcade environment.

Generic Cons of Treadmills

Though each brand of treadmill has it’s own list of pros and cons, the majority of them all experience the same, generic issues.

A treadmills does not yet exist that supports all VR content. This is an issue in all cases, as it means the same floor space occupied by the treadmill cannot be used for games which don’t utilize it.

These devices are expensive. With the exception of the Virtuix Omni, all other movement solutions are prohibitively expensive for facilities who want to provide a consistent offering within each VR station.

Treadmill movement solutions are very hands-on for staff. Most movement solutions require significant harness or strapping systems which require direct support from a trained staff member, which will take them away from other duties or requires the hiring of additional staff members. 

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the hardware. Most movement solutions have a “minimum height” restriction. A large portion of the VR LBE clientele are children, and these devices do not support the very small, or the very large.

Some customers find these devices intimidating. According to a recent study by David MacQueen, nearly 90% of the North American public has still not even tried VR.  Subjecting them to a complicated hardware contraption as well can be overwhelming and deter newcomers from trying the core VR technology at all.

Using treadmills can be very physically demanding. Most of the content for these devices are high-impact, fast-paced shooters, resulting in significant exertion by the user.  Most customers who attend VR LBEs are looking for casual fun, as opposed to the sweat-inducing workout involved with most VR movement solutions.

Lastly, these devices are very prone to technical failure. Most designs have moving parts, removable components and/or become less accurate at tracking over time. Now let’s take a look at some of the most common treadmills out there. 

Virtuix Omni

Virtuix Omni

Price: $1000 – $2000 USD

The Pros: The Virtuix Omni is relatively affordable, light-weight and it’s an established brand. It has a relatively small physical footprint and has a relatively large library of supported content.

The Cons: One of the biggest setbacks to having the Virtuix Omni in a commercial space is the need for custom Omni shoes. We’re a VR arcade, not a bowling alley! Having multiple pairs of multiple sizes of shoes is not convenient. Plus, shoes get sweaty and smelly, which doesn’t make for the most hygienic experience. The shoes also have battery-powered sensors required for tracking, which means they require charging, require changing, and require backup units when the batteries die. This all leads to increased cost and time required by staff.

The Virtuix Omni uses a concave, frictionless disk as the walking surface which makes it difficult to not move, and also feels strange when moving sideways or backward. The player is constantly pushing against the ring while moving, and there is limited foot space for taking steps. There is also a stabilizing ring that prevents crouching, bending over to pick up items and often collides with the user’s hands / peripherals during play. All of these ultimately take away from the immersiveness of the VR experience.

KAT WALK

Price: 11,900  (14,820 USD)

The Pros: This device has a sturdy support beam and harness, clear of obstructions while playing. It has a relatively smaller footprint, and crouching, sitting and jumping are supported.

The Cons: The KAT WALK is an exceptionally tall device with a limited weight capacity. It has lots of moving parts that have the possibility of failing, and the device requires regular maintenance. This treadmill also has the same main problems that we experience with Virtuix Omni, including the requirement of hundreds of custom shoes, and a less immersive VR experience due to the unnatural movement of the concave disk. 

Infinadeck

Infinadeck

Price: $15,000+ USD (estimated)

The Pros: This is a different style compared to the first two treadmills we looked at. The Infinadeck provides natural walking movement in all directions on a flat surface. It’s clear of obstructions while playing, no special shoes are required, and it supports users of all shapes and sizes. Crouching, sitting, jumping and bending are supported, and there are no battery-powered components.

The Cons: In addition to being prohibitively expensive, this device is very tall. Its users are high off the ground (over 12″) which could provide a liability risk. There’s also a limited weight capacity for the harness rig. It also has lots of moving parts that may fail, and require regular maintenance.

Cyberith Virtualizer

Cyberith Virtualizer

Price: $15,000+ USD

The Pros: This device has a relatively small footprint and features a flat surface for walking. There’s no minimal overhead hardware, and crouching, sitting and jumping are supported.

The Cons: This is another prohibitively expensive device.  Instead of requiring custom shoes to use this device, a pair of custom socks that slip over your shoes will suffice. Though this reduces the number of pairs you have to keep and is more hygienic than shoes, it is still not the most convenient. Similar to the Omni and the KATWALK, you have restricted movement due to the obstructing ring, limiting your foot space for taking steps and often collides with the user’s hands or peripherals during play. 

Aperium Kinescape

Aperium Kinescape

Price: $15,000+ USD (reportedly)

The Pros: There’s no harness or ring required with the Kinescape. It’s very “familiar” hardware, nearly identical to conventional treadmills. Regular shoes or socks are supported, with a flat surface for walking, this treadmill is suitable for all user sizes. In addition, the base can be operated without walls (if necessary) and the tread can be widened to support larger spaces. This same space can also be repurposed for all content, regardless of integration!

The Cons: Once again, prohibitively expensive right now. Though this device does not require custom shoes or socks, it does require a battery-powered Vive tracker. This tracker will require charging, changing and backup units when the battery dies. In this treadmill design there is a significant risk to the user and it is not as responsive as other movement solutions. It can currently only reorient a person to a maximum of 90°.

Final Thoughts

There are other solutions constantly being prototyped to solve the VR LBE movement challenge.  Unfortunately, none of them seem to “check all of the boxes” when it comes to solving the VR movement challenges for commercial VR spaces… yet.