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This natural walking in virtual spaces is made possible by fixing the body at the hips and a smooth surface that the user slides his feet over. Sensors in the floor plate register the movements and pass the data on to the computer. The user wears 3D goggles that cover the entire field of view, thereby becoming immersed in a virtual world.
The Virtualizer, as the device is called, was developed by Tuncay Cakmak and other students in cooperation with the virtual reality expert Hannes Kaufmann from the Institute for Software Technology and Interactive Systems at the Vienna University of Technology. The goal of the researchers was to enable navigation in virtual worlds by means of natural walking movements.
The movements of the body and of the head with the 3D goggles are independent in the system. This means that the user can move in a different direction than he is looking. The 3D goggles and the Virtualizer transmit their respective positions and orientations independently. As the hip harness is adjustable in height, the user can also jump or duck, which is useful for 3D games.
The Virtualizer is still under development. The team of researchers is working on a second prototype generation of the device, but has big plans. A finished product is to be released in 2014. The Virtualizer will first be released as a peripheral for computers. It will be connected by USB. According to the developers, the device has no special system requirements for the computer. The Virtualizer should be able to work with any standard computer.
It is not yet known what the device will cost. “The most important thing is the quality, but we of course want to offer the device at the lowest price possible,” Cakmak said. If the device is successful with computers, it may also be offered for gaming consoles. Patents have already been filed for the technology. And a company name has been found for distribution: Cyberith.
At Game City in Vienna city hall, futurezone was able to try out the Virtualizer. Wearing socks, you step through a ring on three columns, which can be adjusted in height. You are secured in this ring by means of a climber’s belt. You put on the 3D goggles, and you already find yourself in a different world – a virtual village in Tuscany in the test.
On the smooth surface, you first walk through the garden. Because of the friction of the floor plate, you lean forward slightly. When you walk backwards, you have to lean back a little. You rock side to side slightly while walking, but you get used to moving in this way quickly. In just a few seconds, you are completely immersed in the virtual world, and don’t know what direction your are looking in in reality.
You move through the Italian villa relatively quickly, which causes you to run clumsily into pixellated stone walls and garden furniture, but the speed can be adjusted. You can also climb steps without actually going up in reality. The walking movement is implemented without any lag. But because of the sensitivity, you take a large step backwards when you take a small step backwards in reality.
All in all, the Virtualizer offers a good method of control that leaves both hands free. This allows for additional controllers, for example for shooting games. The market launch will definitely be interesting.