Tech Biz

Virtuix Omni: An Omnidirectional Treadmill for VR Gaming

Kickstarted hardware allows users to walk, run, and jump “inside” their favorite video games.

By J. T. Quigley for

After the success of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, some gamers wanted hardware that could add to the feeling of being “inside” a video game. It was great to look around a virtual world, but awkward to do so sitting still.

The missing piece? According to startup Virtuix, the answer is the Omni – an omnidirectional treadmill that can fit inside someone’s living room. The company has already successfully funded the Omni using Kickstarter, which is the same crowd-funding site that made the Oculus Rift a reality.

To date, the Omni has raised close to $1 million from an initial goal of only $150 thousand. The Kickstarter campaign still has 19 days remaining.

“The immersion of physically walking around in a virtual environment is mind blowing,” said Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk, in an interview with The Jace Hall Show. “Your brain believes you are in a different place.”

So how does the Omni allow you to move freely, 360 degrees, while walking, running, and jumping? Perhaps surprisingly, the base is completely stationary – there are no mechanical belts or moving parts beneath your feet. The key lies in the surface, coupled with a special pair of shoes that the user must wear. The Omni’s Kickstarter page explains it as follows:

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“The base of the Omni is a low-friction surface with grooves. Users wear special shoes with pins that fit into the grooves, keeping the foot stabilized and preventing unwanted lateral slide. The shoe sole has a higher friction coefficient on the toe to grant further stability and maintain balance. The result for users is a natural gait that allows for true virtual exploration and immersion.”

In a new video from Virtuix, posted on YouTube today, Goetgeluk and a friend each use an Omni and a Rift to virtually run around the boxy world of Minecraft. While Minecraft might not be the most attractive title to show off multiplayer – the Omni may be better demonstrated on such titles as Half Life 2, Doom 4, and Team Fortress 2 – the video sure makes it look like fun.

Like all Kickstarter campaigns, the Omni has different monetary contribution levels that give project backers different rewards. When the campaign launched on June 4, the most basic Omni kit (base and shoes only, with directions on how to build your own upper support structure) could be had for $249. Currently, the lowest pledge still available is at the $429 level, which gives backers a complete Omni, minus shipping.

Once funding is released, Virtuix expects to ship the Omni to project contributors next January. But before you decide to take the plunge, you might want to consider getting some thick curtains for your living room.

“It's easy to get lost in the game – so long as you can forget that there are other people watching,” wrote Engadget.

Hopefully the health benefits that go along with plenty of physical movement, as opposed to sitting on the couch all day, will outweigh the nerd factor.