Insights EDU

The Growth of the Virtual Reality Accessories Market – Part Two: The State of VR Locomotion

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Akash Bellippady | Founder and CEO | Unlocked Reality

13 Aug 2021 | 9 min read

Previously, in part one, we discussed the rise of the virtual reality accessories industry and how VR locomotion is a prominent problem. I mentioned it’s important to keep a lookout for a user-friendly, hardware consumer product that allows for direct translation of leg movement, as products that fit these characteristics will be true solutions to VR locomotion.

Now, we are going to be looking at the most relevant locomotion methods currently used today. These are listed in order by which method is most commonly used.

Most Commonly Used Types of VR Locomotion

1. Using a controller (joystick, teleport move, dash, walk-in-place, etc.)

 

Picture from Envato Elements

 

Description: This method is the most common for VR users since most virtual reality headsets today come with controllers. Since it works right out of the box, most developers also make sure that this methodology is supported for their games. There are also a ton of ways controllers are used in different VR experiences, the most common being joystick move and teleport move, but also encompasses things like walk-in-place (where you swing your arms back and forth and dashing (where you use the joystick to dash from place to place).

Example: Valve Index knuckles, Oculus touch controller, Xbox controller

Pros: Comes with most VR headsets and is supported by most VR experiences, allows for unique ways to experience VR content

Cons: Cause for most VR motion sickness, can make VR content more complicated to transverse

Price: none to $, comes with your system most of the time

Setup requirements

  • Size/ space required to set up: none
  • Time to get into the experience: some/negligible

Naturalness of locomotion: unnatural

Use over time: can learn and adjust to it

 

2. Walking around in a Set Space

 

Picture from Envato Elements

 

Description: Setting up empty space to be able to physically walk around while using a VR headset. This is the second most common locomotion method since most VR headsets already support this today. Tracking in VR experiences is impacted since a VR experience can only tell where your headset is and not how you move.

Example: 3×3 foot area in a bedroom, garages, family rooms, and empty warehouses

Pros: feels more immersive even when not requiring much more, allows for realistic interaction with VR environments

Cons: Limited by how much empty indoor space you can make or have access to, tracking and movement interpretation is based on headset positioning

Price: none, usually whatever empty space people already have access to

Setup requirements

  • Size/ space required to set up: none
  • Time to get into the experience: none – or have to take time to make space

Naturalness of locomotion: Natural

Use over time: stays the same or gets better over time since you can get more confident about the space you have to work with

 

3. Tracker/ Accessory based

 

Picture from Envato Elements

 

Description: These are products that are a common upgrade most VR users do when trying to improve their VR experience. This category of hardware works by using some sort of hardware to capture and extrapolate your motion. This can range from something that is strapped to specific body parts to something that you step on while you are seated to indicate motion.

Example: DecaMove, CyberShoes, HTC Vive Trackers

Pros: Has some level of direct tracking of your motion with the direct involvement of your limbs

Cons: If your space to use it is limited then the tracker/accessory is also limited, experiences can be heavily based on what kind of tracker or accessory you use

Price: $ to $$$ since there is such a wide range of devices out there

Setup requirements

  • Size/ space required to set up: none to medium if the device is stationary and not a wearable
  • Time to get into the experience: Normal/acceptable since it’s just another thing you have to use

Naturalness of locomotion: unnatural

Use over time: They tend not to get better over time but some might get a little easier as you get used to how to use them.

 

4. Omnidirectional Slidemill

 

Picture by Virtuix

 

Description: A bowl like device that allows strapped in users to simulate walking by wearing shoes that will force the users to continuously slip while walking on the low friction surface within the bowl. The combination of low friction shoes, low friction surface, and a harness allow people to move while staying in one place. Shoes allow for direct translation of walking into virtual reality.

Examples: Virtuix Omni, Silvercord VR, Kat VR

Pros: Can handle quick motions and directional changes well, power by directly walking

Cons: requires a harness to support users, requires special footwear most of the time, always feels like a slippery to walk on

Price: $$ to $$$ depending on what you go with since they are mostly low friction plastic bowls with trackers

Setup requirements

  • Size/ space required to set up: medium to large
  • Time to get into experience: acceptable to long, as you get used to setting it up and getting on it the time required is shorter

Naturalness of locomotion: unnatural

Use over time: You can learn and adjust to it, but after a certain point it doesn’t get much better

 

5. Omnidirectional Treadmill

 

Picture by Omnifinity

 

Description: A mechanically driven device that allows its tread to move in all directions, allowing users to walk on the device in any direction, given if the tread can keep up with directional changes. The system moves the treads in opposite directions users intend to go so they can always have a surface to walk on, just like a normal treadmill. Users are often harnessed and given guardrails to inform them where they are, assist newer users in walking on the device, and prevent them from walking off the treadmill. Oftentimes there are shoes or trackers used to do the actual translation of movement into virtual reality.

Examples: Omnideck omnifinity and Infinadeck

Pros: Close to natural locomotion when moving at a constant speed

Cons: Not easy to handle quick changes in direction or speed

Price: $$$ expensive

Setup requirements

  • Size/ space required to set up: large
  • Time to get into the experience: acceptable to long, as you get used to setting it up and getting on it the time required is shorter

Naturalness of locomotion: Somewhat natural

Use over time: You can learn and adjust to it, but after a certain point it doesn’t get much better

 

Picture from Envato Elements

 

How do they stack up against each other? (Final tier list/ rating amongst themselves)

Considering the list above, even though some methods are more common than others, it is more important to know how they really compare against each other in terms of allowing you to have a good time walking while using virtual reality.

Having a good experience is subjective, but a way to estimate if you are going to have a good time is by how much your experience isn’t getting intruded on by your ability to actually move within VR. Taking this into consideration, this is how I would rank these systems based on how natural it is to walk/move.

By Naturalness of movement:

1. Walking around in a Set Space
2. Omnidirectional Treadmills
3. Omnidirectional Slidemills
4. Accessories
5. Controllers

But when considering all the factors that I layed out for each solution above, I believe that the following rankings are deserved.

Overall Current Best VR locomotion Solution:

1. Omnidirectional Slidemills
2. Walking around in a Set Space
3. Omnidirectional Treadmills
4. Accessories
5. Controllers

Slidemills just provide the best balance as a solution, though I think they aren’t the best for natural locomotion. Slidemills at least allow for body motion that can be tracked and are good for people with space constraints. But if you have the space, I don’t think there is a better solution than walking around in real life. I believe that most people won’t use an omnidirectional treadmill since they are often mechanically large machines that are just not ready for the average person outside of a VR arcade. But I believe treadmills have good potential to allow for quite realistic motion in one place. Lastly, accessories of all kinds in general are better to have than not to, so I place them ahead of controller based locomotion nearly every time.

What would an optimal system look like?

 

Picture from Unlocked Reality

 

The best VR locomotion system would allow for the most natural movement, be the easiest to use, and be the most accessible for most people. A system that doesn’t have any restrictions like harnesses or guardrails. A system that allows for direct motion of the body to be translated into VR, like when using trackers. A system that can be used right off the bat with little to no downtime, setting up or getting used to it, that can keep up with how people normally move. And a system that has a small space requirement like slidemills today.

A solution that is all of these things is what we are working on at Unlocked Reality. We know that a passive system or an electrical system are the only options when trying to keep up with a biological system like the body. Anything slower is going to be noticed and therefore a hindrance to use a.k.a. mechanical based systems. Solutions like slidemills rub people the wrong way because the slipperiness that makes them work can never be turned off.

At Unlocked Reality we are working on a VR platform that allows VR users to move naturally and untethered in any direction while staying in one place. We use a patent-pending methodology of utilizing precisely controlled magnetic levitation, powered by machine learning so that you can walk on our platform without really displacing yourselves from it. Our methodology allows us to give you the same response rate as slidemills while allowing you to move as naturally as you would walking down the street.

What’s next?

Opinions are still forming about VR locomotion solutions. I hope the metrics I mentioned can help you form yours. We are still at just the beginning of the virtual reality hardware accessory era. So, keep a lookout for what VR locomotion solutions are doing right now and what is coming up next.

There are more problems that virtual reality headsets don’t solve that a new hardware accessory could in the near future. In the meantime, look for updates on Unlocked Reality’s VR locomotion solution at www.UnlockedReality.com.

Read from the beginning of the series, part one is just a click away.

About the author:

Akash is the Founder and CEO of Unlocked Reality, a virtual reality hardware accessories company solving VR problems that VR headsets don't solve. He is a UX researcher and an engineer who is on a mission to grow the VR industry, and at heart, he is a VR, hardware, and games enthusiast.

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