I had one of the more surreal moments of my tech writing career at E3 back in 2013, when a gaming startup invited me to a hotel suite to try out a new prototype they’d been working on. I was already feeling sick, rocking a slight fever on that June Los Angeles day.
Inside the room was a large plastic circle and a harness — a virtual reality treadmill, a giant periphal designed to address the problem of movement in virtual reality, namely the then-nascent Oculus Rift. It was strange and loud, but I walked away impressed and dripping with sweat from the combination of brisk exercise and fever.
The Virtuix Omni has come a long way since then, though the principles are more or less the same as before. It’s still a harness and a concave plastic platform that requires the use of special shoes, allowing the player to slip around and effectively run in place, creating a sense of locomotion ideal for first-person shooters.
The final shipping version of the crowdfunded platform (get it?) certainly looks a lot slicker, right down to the $60 special shoes, which feature built-in accelerometers to measure the player’s movements. The system itself runs $700 — more than the retail price of the Oculus.
It’s a pretty big investment, both in terms of money and space (but maybe that’s just the New York apartment dweller in me talking), but the result is extremely immersive and quite impressive — just so long as you don’t mind looking a little silly in the process. But then, isn’t that half the fun of virtual reality?