In an ideal virtual reality experience, we would be able to see, hear, smell, and feel things as we move around the virtual world. We should be able to go wherever we want, provided we can get there on foot. While we can do some of these things with the VR gear currently available on the market, the VR industry is still quite far from achieving this ideal virtual experience.
One obstacle preventing us from having a fully immersive experience is space. When you’re in a virtual world, you’re under the illusion that you have a different amount of space from what you have in the real world. Usually, it’s more. This presents a problem where moving around in a virtual world could lead to you bumping into walls and furniture in the real world, where there’s less space. Oculus, for example, prevents this by allowing users to define boundaries based on the amount of space available in the real world. While this prevents you from hitting walls, it takes away the immersion.
The obvious solution is to get a wider play area, but this isn’t always possible. So, in a lot of VR games and experiences, developers include an option to ‘teleport’ to a location by making certain gestures. This is clearly a temporary fix, and after doing that several times, you might get motion sickness.
To solve this problem, a VR company called Ekto, after four years of stealth development, has come up with a prototype pair of VR boots called Ekto One.
Ekto One is a pair of robotic boots that enable its wearer move in a VR world without really moving in the actual world. The boots are worn around existing footwear and have wheels underneath them that reverse whatever motion a wearer makes. When you take a step forward or backward, the boots move that foot imperceptibly in the opposite direction, keeping you in the same position, and thus giving the illusion that you’re walking in the virtual world.
The boots orient themselves to whatever direction you turn to, and after a while adapts to your walking pattern using data from the movement of your hip and feet. When standing still, the boots are fully braked to preventing you from falling.
Each boot is powered by rechargeable batteries commonly found in cordless tools and can last for an hour on a full charge. It takes 30 minutes to charge them fully.
A product like Ekto One is useful in almost all VR applications because of the mobility it provides. But the Ekto One team is focusing mainly on industrial and military applications for now. One of the use cases that was showcased in the company’s product reveal video was its potential use in training employees in the mining industry.
Mining is an industry with a lot of hazards, and proper training of potential employees is necessary to ensure everyone’s safety. To minimize training accidents and reduce training costs, the mining industry has taken to using simulations to train employees. Usually, the training has to be done in a gymnasium to give the trainees ample space to move around in virtual mines. With Ekto One, only 100 square feet of space is needed for each trainee, making it possible to train more employees at once.
The Ekto One boots is a very innovative solution to a problem that has existed for a while in the VR industry. The boots are likely to see adoption for corporate and military uses, particularly in the training of employees and soldiers. But they’re still not ready for consumers. At the end of the product reveal, the company showed a video clip of someone moving around a VR game called Half-Life: Alyx. Looking at the video, it’s clear that the boots aren’t designed for gaming, which usually involves a lot of sudden movement and running.
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Image courtesy: Nerdist