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Disney offers an elegant solution to VR’s movement problem

Remember the Virtuix Omni? I’ll never forget trying out an early version of the virtual reality treadmill in a hotel suite many E3s ago. The system, which features a concave platform and slippery shoes, was clever enough to influence Ready Player One’s take on the space. The electronics-free system finally started shipping earlier this year.

One thing you can say about VR is that it’s inspiring a lot of creative solutions to different issues around the tech. Movement is a major one, of course. You lose some of that visceral sensation when your FPV avatar is cruising around while you’re just sitting there on the couch.

For the foreseeable future, however, all solutions will have some key drawbacks. Price is one in Omni’s case, and likely will be for a lion’s share of these sorts of peripherals. Other issues are size (it’s huge) and sound (it’s very noisy).

HoloTile -- which recently made its YouTube debut at the end of a video honoring Disney Research fellow Lanny Smoot — is an extremely clever and honestly quite elegant solution to some of these issues.

The system is composed of hundreds of small, round “tiles” that look to be about the size of a silver dollar. Each serve as a kind of mini, omnidirectional treadmill. Working together, their only task is to stop the walker from leaving the pad.

“I can walk on this omni directional floor in any direction I want,” Smoot says in the video. “It will automatically do whatever it needs to have me stay on the floor. And what's amazing about this is multiple people can be on it and all walking independently. They can walk in virtual reality, and so many other things.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68YMEmaF0rs?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=360]

The ability to support multiple people is, perhaps, the most impressive bit of all of this. Of course, plenty of questions abound, including top speed (Smoot is moving very deliberately in the video) and how much weight they’re capable of sporting. The big caveat to all of this is that the HoloTile appears to very much be a research project at the moment.

One also assumes that a system like this in its current form would be prohibitively expensive for home use. If it’s going to see the light of day, it seems likely that it will be as part of a Disney Parks VR experience.