Explore VR is delighted to report the news that yesterday the first consumer Virtuix Omni was delivered to a day-one Kickstarter backer, Fred Wood.
Image source - Virtuix
“I’ve always wanted to run around in impossible, virtual worlds. Virtuix has developed a product to make that possible, and I can’t wait to start running on my Omni.” – Fred Wood
The Virtuix Omni is the world’s first consumer omni-directional treadmill. Its design allows players to walk, jog, run, and jump in 360 degrees safely, and without simulator-sickness – issues that otherwise beset first-person navigation in VR.
Image source - Virtuix
Crowdfunded on Kickstarter in 2013 to the tune of over $1.1 million dollars, the Virtuix Omni was originally envisioned as an immersion-enhancing device by its inventor, Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk, who began designing it on the first of January, 2012.
“I didn’t want to sit down with my glasses on and push buttons on a keyboard or gamepad” he said, in his Kickstarter video in June of 2013.
However, in the intervening period, as developers have attempted to realize the long sought-after dream of Virtual Reality, it has become clear that improvements to the design of head-mounted displays (or ‘VR masks’) have not been sufficient to eliminate the symptoms of simulator-sickness, which result from a disharmony between perceived locomotion and the physical sense of motion we are used to in real life (Kinesthesia).
While developers struggled to find ways to deal with the nausea of sim-sickness, early Omni prototype users (including the author, who has demonstrated the device at public events) were able to run and weave their way through levels for up to an hour before taking a natural break – without any problem. Awareness was growing that the only viable way to combat sim-sickness in VR was to enable kinesthesia, which is powered by the vestibular system and proprioception. The secret to the Omni’s success was that users could lean safely in any direction they wanted to go thanks to the integrated harness - that helped the vestibular system; while the large, bowl-shaped base allowed for a natural gait which satisfied our in-built proprioception. Of course, this would be no good if no-one could afford it. Thanks to the Omni’s passive-design (no motors or moving parts necessary for operation), Virtuix have been able to set the price at a staggeringly low $699 for its first release.
With no developer-kit available for the Omni however, it was imperative that they ship the consumer version as soon as possible, as developers were beginning to give up on the idea of fully-realized first-person VR experience. Too many compromises appeared to be involved in order to make that experience comfortable. Numerous experiments had shown that comfort could only be improved by reducing immersion and the magical sense of presence. In essence, if it looked real, it had to feel real too. Rather than bypassing movement altogether (through teleportation for instance, which didn’t make sense in many games), we began to see an increase in cockpit-based, third-person perspective, and on-rails based games, all of which are less prone to triggering sim-sickness.
Of course this is not what VR enthusiasts have been envisioning for years. My own first recollection of VR was seeing the Jaguar VR headset many years ago (way ahead of a time when computing hardware would be powerful enough to output satisfactorily to it). Back then, I imagined myself looking through the eyes of my virtual avatar, exploring and interacting with a strange, alien world - not rooted to the spot or forced to progress in an unnatural way. I know I am not alone in this.
It was no surprise to me when Virtuix’s campaign smashed its funding goal in a little over three hours. They promised “free move/aim/look with analog player direction and speed when using the Virtuix Omni” and two years later they have delivered exactly that, as you can see in this video featuring their stretch goal game demo ‘TRAVR: Training Ops’ working in tandem with the HTC Vive developer kit.
Thousands of Kickstarter backers and pre-order customers are now eagerly anticipating their VR treadmills, but they will need to wait a little bit longer, as it must undergo a period of evaluation from a group of 50 ‘Pathfinders’.
“The remaining Pathfinder units are currently being manufactured in China, and a new batch is already on its way to the US. The bulk of these units will be delivered to our Pathfinder participants by late January. We will ramp up our production afterwards, however, keep in mind that we will need an extended period of time to ramp up our production without jeopardizing quality and to work through our entire backlog of more than 4,000 pre-orders. We will communicate a production and delivery schedule as soon as available.” - Virtuix
Explore VR can confirm they have secured a place on the Pathfinder program. I will do my utmost to keep you posted on my experiences with the Omni starting in January. Although the major head-mounted displays have yet to be released, with only one revealing when pre-orders are due to begin, the arrival of the world’s first consumer omni-directional treadmill in a consumer’s home signals that the VR revolution is now underway.
Congratulations to Jan Goetgeluk and the Virtuix Team on their incredible achievement. 2016 will be the year of VR, and it will now be everything we dreamed!