So far, 2013 has been a real banner year for virtual reality enthusiasts. Oculus is almost done shipping the last of its Rift virtual reality headsets to Kickstarter backers. And Virtuix Tuesday launched its own Kickstarter (running through July) to fund manufacturing of its upcoming Omni treadmill (shown above in an artist's rendition).
Unlike a traditional treadmill, which forces you to walk a specific path, Virtuix's product is the latest in a series of upcoming "omnidirectional" treadmills for gamers.
The base of the Omni looks like a satellite dish, with grooves at regular intervals around the platform. The user is constrained by a waist-high ring in the center of the device, designed for both safety and support, but is free to turn in any direction and begin walking.
Specially designed shoes with small nubs on the bottom keep the player from sliding from side to side. If you're concerned that you don't have space for this contraption, (say, if you live in a tiny apartment), Virtuix promises the device will pack up smaller for storage.
If you pair the Omni with an Oculus Rift, which tracks your head movements to direct an in-game camera, you're on your way to a full virtual-reality suite. For instance, you could turn your body in the direction you want your character to move and then simply start walking. Your avatar will respond accordingly.
Pairing the Rift and Omni together is a great way to make traditional game input devices obsolete. Freed from the constraints of the keyboard and mouse or dual analog stick gamepad (one stick for camera and one for movement), developers are able to experiment with newer, more intuitive designs, which lowers the barrier of entry for games.
Kickstarter backers can get their hands on an Omni for just $400, which includes the platform, a support belt, and a pair of shoes, as well as tracking hardware and software.
Virtuix also offers a DIY package for $300, which includes just the platform, shoes, and tracking device, but no support belt. The company wonders whether anyone can better the original belt design, saying it wants to "harness the creativity of [the virtual reality] community to improve the Omni."
And hey, if you're a serious virtual reality geek (and quick on the draw), you can even toss in $400 for an Omni kit that includes a signed copy of Ernest Cline's book Ready Player One--limited to the first 50 backers.
Virtuix does say the Kickstarter backer prices are somewhat lower than the eventual retail price of the Omni, but no word on how much lower.
Forcing yourself to get in shape while playing video games isn't for everybody, but I'm excited to throw together an Oculus Rift and Virtuix Omni and start exploring my favorite virtual worlds. The Omni is the first outing for Virtuix, but the company demoed the unit in LA on May 29 to an enthusiastic crowd; the device appears safe, effective, and (relatively) affordable.
If the Omni finds support among developers, it could drastically change the way people play video games and shake up the dual-analog standard.
We'll have hands-on impressions of the Omni during our coverage of the annual E3 games extravaganza in Los Angeles, which starts June 11. Stay tuned.