Ready Player One has already earned more money overseas than any other of Steven Spielberg’s movies. The 80’s filled nostalgia Virtual reality movie has garnered $260 million in the world’s second largest film market, China, and $500 million from the American Box office. The virtual reality industry has seen a notable increase in popularity post-release of the Ready Player One live-action film.
Ready player one is without a doubt a monument to “recognition cinema”, with more than a hundred video-game and movie references. But what caught our attention were the virtual reality peripherals frequently showed and used in the movie; the Haptic body suits and tactile gloves, Virtual reality headset, and what will delve further into, the “Omni-directional treadmill”. To our delight we got in touch with a company, KAT VR, developing a device much similar to it, the KAT WALK mini! So what follows is a brief interview with KAT VR’s CEO, Kaye Pang.
Q. What is the significance of a VR Omni-directional treadmill?
A. It’s the bridge between the virtual world and reality.
“The KAT WALK mini is an Omni-directional treadmill whose significance is to “break the wall” of reality that’s irreplaceable by current technology”.
“When you “step into the virtual world”, this degree of believable immersion and spatial awareness are instinctively followed by the desire to walk. At this point, tracked motion controllers or teleportation ruins the established sense of immersion, and what’s more, this mismatch of body movement to sight induces motion sickness. So it goes without saying that it’s crucial to simulate bipedal movement. However, you don’t want to be bumping into walls or having the virtual world limited to Location-based systems that map real-terrain to virtual. So taking a page from Ernest Cline’s bestseller, your best option is an Omni-directional treadmill, occupying minimal space yet offering unlimited freedom of movement in the virtual world. The VR rig also comes with safety mechanisms to keep you upright and out of harm’s way.”
When we asked how tiring it must be to play on a rig like this, Kaye answered with a smile and said,” It’s true that using a VR rig is physically demanding just like walking, but you have to make a choice considering other factors like, motion sickness and safety”.
With further developments in the virtual reality industry, we’re sure to see a growing VR community, and it’s to be expected that Omni-directional treadmills will become indispensable.
Q. Could you tell us more about the technology in use with ODTs?
A. Necessary ergonomics and motion capture technology.
“ODT, stands for Omni-directional Treadmill, as presented in the RPO film. Integrative technology employing; ergonomics, gait analysis, motion capture, mechanical and structural design, sensors and algorithms, and adaptive technology to parallel preceding game movement mechanics.”
“The KAT WALK mini achieves “fixed” movement through intricate mechanical structure and ergonomic design, enabling you to “traverse” the virtual world, but there’s more to it. The non-restrictive yet safe structure allows for free movement of your legs and arms, to swing or punch, run or walk backwards, squat or jump, exempt of safety risks. This level of functional balance and safety took multiple trials.
With regard to the motion capture, our particular VR rig uses non-contact optical sensors to precisely implement 1:1 footstep position tracking and linear walking speed matching with extremely low latency. Coupled with its compatibility to mainstream headsets and content adaptive technology, the KAT WALK mini is a VR universal treadmill and versatile VR input device.”
Q. What would you say are the key technical standards for VR Omni-directional treadmills?
A. Compatibility, degree of freedom, safety, and low latency.
“Full compatibility, 6 Degrees of freedom, absolute safety, and low latency are crucial factors to achieving the desired standard for ODTs”, Kaye quickly summarized these as being the technical necessities. KATVR’s taken the time to cultivate their technology, to achieve the “world’s only” exemplar VR rig. However, Kaye Pang stated the company intends to gradually make strides to developing VR ODTs akin to the rigs in Ernest Cline’s dystopia as seen in Spielberg’s film. To aspire to be the technical measure for all VR Omni-directional treadmills.
“Gamers don’t play consoles but the game itself. An experience bound to be a timeless memory, a masterpiece, like Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls or Fallout 4. Ergo, so should we develop versatile tech to keep up with your interests, a rig on which you can play any free locomotion VR game… the ultimate VR controller.”
KAT WALK mini is currently the world’s first and only ODT that’s fully compatible with self-developed software and other free locomotion VR games on platforms such as Steam VR, Oculus Home, Vive Port, and even PlayStation VR. In addition to game compatibility, it supports all current mainstream VR headsets such as the Oculus, HTC Vive, PiMax 8K, and the PSVR. The open SDK suite allows developers to easily integrate their games or VR applications, and adaptable to use for industrial applications or training simulators.
The ODT serves as an input device for your physical actions into the virtual world, the more degrees of freedom- the more directions of motion you can do on the rig. The KAT WALK mini supports six degrees of freedom with assured safety, to elaborate; you can do vertical movement(Jump & squat), move forward or backward, strafe left or right, tilt and rotate. Which in turn shortens the aesthetic distance, getting you more immersed.
Protection from harm to yourself or objects around you is another essential factor to implement for an all-around enjoyable VR experience. The KAT WALK mini’s smart design instantaneously reacts to each move you make, adjusting to keep you upright in all directions, whether running, squatting or rotating.
The 6DOF and safety are contradictory features, since it’s quite the task to give the user freedom of movement whilst ensuring they don’t tumble and fall. Evidently, other ODTs on the market can only provide you one at the expense of the other.
Motion sickness in VR varies respectively to latency, and this applies to ODTs as well. KATVR’s rig however, employs newly developed non-contact optical sensors and optimized algorithms to match footstep position tracking to real-time input accurately. This low level of latency greatly cuts down on the sensory mismatch between your visual and vestibular systems, in other words, reduced motion sickness. As a bonus, the sensors are wear-free and need no maintenance.
“This is what we offer now, but it is miles away from satisfying. We endeavor to reach greater heights, and bridge the gap between the real and virtual, making it indistinguishable”. Kaye said movingly, “KAT is for, Keep Advancing Technology “
After the interview, we got an opportunity to test the KAT WALK mini and played “Skyrim VR” and “Fallout 4”. Slaying dragons and mowing down deathclaws and mutants has never this so real, it was an exhilarating experience. The immersion is superb, felt right there in the middle of it all, in the Vaults and Moss Mother Cavern’s breathtaking waterfall. As an avid gamer, this experience left me hopeful that maybe Ernest Cline’s virtual paradise isn’t so far out of our reach. That someday, slowly but surely, we’ll create a virtual world as intricate as the reality we live in, an “Oasis”.
Developing compatible and adaptive ODTs for gameplay is just the start of what we should expect from Kaye Pang and the other founding partners of KATVR. Kaye truly feels content of her dream to contribute to the VR industry and carter to VR enthusiasts with her forefront VR proxy technology.
We expect more VR games, experiences, and training simulations being developed under meticulous refinement by KATVR. For now, with the KAT WALK mini we’re a step closer to bridging the virtual world with reality.
KATVR is a high-tech R&D enterprise dedicated to making VR interactive equipment. Founded in 2015, they launched their first product in 2016, the KAT WALK, after a successful funding on KickStarter.
“We intend to be the lead supplier of immersive VR interactive devices to enhance the experience for all VR users… a door into the fathomless virtual world.”