Jamie Hyneman would like to help gamers reach a whole new level of immersion thanks to his “Vortrex” electric shoes, featuring wheels and a track.
Whether in the field of gaming, research or architecture: Virtual Reality (VR) is on the rise. However, one problem that nobody has quite been able to solve for this technology is movement. If users actually start running when they are trying to get away from something in their game, the worst case scenario is a painful encounter with a table or a wall.
Several concepts have been developed that enable gamers to walk, run and turn around in the virtual world, for example VR playpens. However, these “omnidirectional treadmills” are still extremely expensive and are not really intended for private use.
Vortrex VR shoes control your avatar in the game
The American special effects expert Jamie Hyneman, best known from the television series MythBusters, would like to make such equipment unnecessary and allow gamers to have more freedom. He has developed Vortrex for this very purpose: The VR shoes allow gamers to make normal walking movements without actually moving from the spot.
To achieve this, the soles of the shoes are equipped with a mini track at the front and two wheels at the heel. When the wearer steps forwards, the motorized wheels pull the shoe back into its original position. Infrared sensors located at the front and back of the shoe ensure that gamers remain in the tracking area and do not bump into anything around them. The shoes are also equipped with electronic compasses that detect which direction the person wearing Vortrex is traveling in. The shoes then use this information to steer the avatar in the game in the right direction.
Making Vortrex compatible with most games
The Vortrex system is designed so that it will be compatible with a wide range of software as soon as it is released. Special drivers and software development kits should also be available for those interested. Hyneman and his team are also working closely with numerous developers to ensure that the possibilities provided by the VR shoes can be incorporated into the design of games from the outset.
The idea behind Vortrex shoes actually originates from the 1980s. Back then, Hyneman bolted cordless drills to the back of his rollerblades to create a type of conveyor belt for shoes. When the VR boom began in 2010, he teamed up with Edmond J. Dougherty — an engineer whose work includes co-developing the SkyCam system used at NFL games — to develop the shoes for use in virtual reality applications.
Prototypes financed by a crowdfunding campaign
To help them turn their designs on the screen into a reality, Hyneman and his team have set up a crowdfunding campaign. If they reach their target of USD 50,000 (approx. EUR 43,000) from the donations, they want to use the money to design and develop the seventh generation of Vortrex shoes. This should be the final primary stage before the shoes can go into production — financed by another crowdfunding project.
Even if the shoes never make it into production, supporters will not be left completely empty-handed. For example, if you donate USD 25 you will receive a roll of adhesive tape as a small thank-you. If you are willing to invest USD 500, you will receive a “Hyneman Survival Kit,” an aluminum box containing an axe, a torch, and several other survival tools. For another USD 100, the MythBusters star will personally autograph the survival package named after him. Some fans might be more excited about this than the VR shoes!