Remember when we reported on that virtual reality treadmill running Skyrim last week? It’s called the Virtuix Omni, a brand new VR system still in the prototype stages. We wanted to know more about it so we had a sit down with Virtuix CEO, Jan Goetgeluk, to discuss his company’s consumer level VR solution.
Virtuix Omni is still in the very early prototype stages. That means in similar fashion to the first Oculus Rift prototypes we tried, presentation takes a backseat to functionality at this point.
Read the interview below…
BabySoftMurderHands.com: Tell us about yourself and why you started your company, Virtuix?
Jan Goetgeluk: I am originally from Belgium and came to the USA six years ago. My initial interest in virtual reality was piqued by the launch of the Microsoft Kinect. I realized that the Kinect, with its ability to track someone’s full body optically without the need for cumbersome sensors, could be a game changer for full body virtual reality. I initially explored developing various software applications for the Kinect, but unfortunately I do not have a software background. I am a mechanical engineer by trade, so I decided to stick to my trade and focus on the issue of locomotion – the missing link of virtual reality. After almost a year of research, experimenting and prototyping, I believe we have accomplished to develop the first locomotion device that meets three crucial objectives: being affordable to household consumers, being compact enough to fit in a living room, and above all, enabling a user to walk freely and naturally in virtual environments.
BSMH: The videos do not tell us a lot about how the Omni works besides a treadmill, an HMD and some how the Kinect. What can you tell us about the Omni and the things that make it up?
JG: The Omni’s strongest part is that it has no electronics and no moving parts, which keeps the cost down. The Omni has a low-friction surface with grooves, and comes with a pair of low-friction shoes that have a plunger pin at the bottom that fit in the surface grooves. As such, your foot is stabilized when walking, instead of sliding left and right as if you were walking on ice. The gait feels natural and effortless. A Kinect is used to translate the movements of the user into key strokes that steer the avatar in the virtual world. The Omni is currently just mechanical hardware; it can be used with other tracking systems, processing units or any virtual environment.
BSMH: Has your team worked on any other VR related projects?
JG: Besides our initial dabbling in Kinect software applications, locomotion has always been our focus. Right now, the Omni is just hardware with basic Kinect support software, but down the road, a fully integrated VR solution is the end game. If you can create a full VR set-up for every household for sub $1,000, you are creating a new consumer market, much like the PC did in the 90’s.
BSMH: There has been a lot of talk from industry luminaries like John Carmack and Michael Abrash regarding latency for VR. What’s your thought on that and what is Virtuix doing to make the best VR experience for gamers?
JG: Latency is the nemesis of virtual reality. Luckily, the movement of walking is more forgiving for latency than, say, turning your head with a HMD. The Kinect has some latency, but seems to be acceptable for walking recognition. I believe optical full body tracking is one of the most effective tracking solutions, so I am glad to see that new innovations are emerging (Leap, Kinect 2, etc.)
BSMH: What games have you gotten to work with the Omni, besides Skyrim?
JG: Any game can work with the Omni and the support software. The Omni software basically translates movements of the user into key strokes, so any game that uses keyboard input can be played. We are optimizing the software so that the user can link certain gestures to specific keys, and save settings for different games.
BSMH: What game would you most like to see using your Omni VR technology?
JG: I believe a beautiful game like Skyrim works great with the Omni, as you can walk around forever and enjoy the scenery. I truly hope we can get virtual reality beyond gaming, though: virtual tourism, virtual events, exercise, training and simulation, virtual meet-ups and multi-person adventures, … the possibilities are limitless. Virtual reality is the future of entertainment.
BSMH: Is Virtuix going to be making an SDK for the Omni?
JG: In its current form, the Omni does not need an SDK, as any game can be steered by emulated key strokes. However, we are working on de-coupling the user’s looking direction from his walking direction and even gun aiming direction. Then you have true virtual reality. Not many games currently support this, so we will all need to work together to make this kind of immersion a reality.
BSMH: Have you tried Oculus’ Rift? What are your thoughts on it?
JG: I have not yet tried the Rift. We are in good contact with our colleagues at Oculus. But like everyone else, we are waiting in line to receive our dev kits in the next couple of weeks!
BSMH: What can gamers look forward to with the Virtuix Omni?
JG: The immersion of physically walking around in a virtual environment is mind blowing. We will work hard every day to keep improving the Omni and bring it to all gaming and VR enthusiasts. We are currently finishing up a new prototype that is much smaller and lower than the current version seen in the demo videos (see pictures). We want to make sure that the Omni is compact and easy to disassemble and store (the so-called “wife acceptance” factor). In addition to walking, the Omni allows for running, jumping, strafing, etc., so we will implement all possible moves into our gesture recognition software, even hand and arm movements. We are preparing a Kickstarter campaign to launch the Omni in the next couple of months, so stay tuned.
The Virtuix Omni looks very promising. I’ve yet to try it out, but it looks like the Virtuix team’s hearts are in the right place. You can stay up to date on all things Virtuix and Omni at the links below.