As virtual reality has exploded in popularity, one major hurdle to a truly immersive experience is not being able to walk around while you play. Users tend to accidentally walk too far in the real world, causing them to bump into furniture and walls. When they’re not physically moving around, people run (pun fully intended) into the opposite problem, suffering extreme motion sickness while whizzing through visually simulated worlds.
To solve these problems, tech companies like Virtuix and Kat have introduced first-stage omnidirectional treadmills, while companies like Cybershoes have created wheeled footwear that can approximate the movement of running while swinging the legs in a seated position. These are all on the right track generally, but none have actually been able to mimic the real-life motions of walking while in a game. Enter the Ekto One VR boots.
While still in the prototype phase, the Ekto One are individual shoes with motorized wheels that can track the users’ movements and propel them backwards each time they take a step forward. Each boot is essentially a mini treadmill, but because they attach to the feet, the user can theoretically move in any direction while still remaining in the designated play space.
This feat is achieved by attaching a pair of Vive visual trackers to each shoe to monitor the user’s position in real-time. While it may look strange to an outside observer, the wearers feel enveloped in their game or training without any accompanying nausea.
Some reviewers who have tried out the beta shoes report that there are certainly a lot of kinks to work out. For starters, they take a full five minutes to attach. Users keep on their normal footwear and slip them into the adjustable Ekto Ones, cinching them down for a snug fit. Then extra ankle sensors are attached and properly positioned.
Reviewers also complain about the weight and clunkiness of the boots. Because of their bulk, just walking around in them for 20 minutes can be a workout, especially as the user has to be careful not to let the shoes bump into each other to avoid falling.
On the other hand, users did like that that the shoes’ soles are divided into two moveable parts, providing more flexibility in walking than just a solid piece of plastic.
Currently, the company is selling the Ekto One shoes for between $15,000 and $20,000, a less-than consumer-friendly price tag. The VR footwear is being marketed to businesses right now in hopes of securing enough funding to further develop and scale the product to make it more affordable for the masses.
The Ekto Ones go way beyond gaming, too. Businesses can utilize the boots for industrial training purposes for things like VR simulations of complex and hazardous environments. Theme parks and museums can also purchase them to provide commercial VR experiences for their visitors.
With more funding from corporations and venture capitalists, the shoes should eventually become lighter and nimble enough to simulate natural movement. While the Ekto One VR boots may not be the complete answer to turning our world into Ready Player One just yet, they’re certainly a step in the right direction.