Shifty tiles bring walking to VR

August 8/11, 2004

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba and ATR Media Information Research Labs in Japan have constructed a moving floor that allows the user to stay in place while walking in a virtual environment.

The device makes it possible to literally move through a virtual environment, and could be used to simulate operations like disaster evacuations, according to the researchers.

The device, dubbed CirculaFloor, consists of movable sections of floor equipped with ultra-sound sensors that keep track of the floor section positions, and magnetic sensors that keep track of the motion of a user's feet. The floor moves in the opposite direction from the user so that the motion of each step is canceled and the user's position remains fixed in the real world.

The floor sections move in all directions, making it possible for the user to freely change direction while walking.

The floor provides a relatively natural means of locomotion for virtual reality systems because the sense of distance and orientation while walking is much better than while riding in a vehicle, according to the researchers.

The researchers' prototype covers flat surfaces. They are working on a mechanism that will allow the user to traverse uneven terrain.

Practical applications could be possible within five years, according to the researchers. The work is scheduled to be presented at the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Siggraph 2004 conference in Los Angeles, August 8 to 12.

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