We take the word ‘immersive’ for granted nowadays. Granted, we are too quick to dub a new feature immersive without really thinking the term through. But there’s no mistake with Google’s new patents that has just peered out. If ever there was a revolution in VR immersive-ness, this is it.
The Virtual reality of today may look immersive but it’s really not. Take a couple of dozen steps in any direction with, say, Mirage Solo on and see where it takes you. Headset into a wall is among the least painful paths. Truth is, the space within VR is limited to your arm length plus a couple of steps in any direction. To spread the virtual world, or rather open it up, it will take something a little more revolutionary than pants motion tracker. And Google VR shoes may just be the thing.
Not to say we didn’t try before. The most successful attempt to spread the VR world thus far has been the VR treadmill solution. Nice try we say, but treadmill is still some distance away from the sensation of real walking. So Google picks it up where Virtuix Omni left off. Its plan is painfully simple yet we imagine equally painful to deliver. Google VR shoes, patent description shows, will have you travel inside VR while staying in one spot in real life.
Before our ‘how’ comes the Google’s description that new patent includes kicks with motors to keep our wandering feet in place. The Google VR shoes will act as motorized wheels that, rather than urge you on, keep the natural locomotion at bay. ‘This’, the patent, ‘may allow the user to walk, seemingly endlessly in the virtual environment, while remaining within a defined physical space in the physical environment’. In other words, VR becomes explorable, and whenever we are too close to VR walls the system takes us back to safety. This is achieved via some advanced feet tracking system that are not too dissimilar to controller tracking of today.
The technology behind Google VR snicks seems fairly advanced, but can it withstand the test of (virtual) reality? Even a simple VR sensation is still something to grapple with (hint, nausea), but imagine walking through a spatially realized VR environment. Staying upright the whole wheel time may be a challenge. VR treadmills of today have recognized the risk and offer a waist support to keep the body up. Challenge or not, we would like to see what Google comes up with.
The word patent has distance written all over. Indeed, Google VR shoes are some time away from being an actual product. But still, Google reveals a nice chunk of information to realize that the company engineers are deep into it. To mention just one, a graph shows tantalizing possibility of omnidirectional wheels capable, we imagine, of all kinds of sliding bravados. Patient or not, chances are that we are getting to wander the VR sooner than we expect. Imagine pairing them to VR gloves. Or don’t. Let the Google engineers work this one out in silence.