“The Oculus Rift is a seated experience.”
It’s a line that’s been stated time and again by everyone from Palmer Luckey to those operating public display booths for the kit. The Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) isn’t meant for using while standing. The reasons for this are obvious; pulling a large plastic case over your eyes and not only obscuring vision but convincing you that you’re in another environment entirely has the potential to be extremely dangerous. If creator Oculus VR wasn’t to actively distance itself from encouraging users to stand with the Oculus Rift on, it could face a lot of legal issues.
For many VR experiences, this isn’t a problem. Sitting in the cockpit of a space ship in EVE: Valkyrie simply requires the player to sit still, as does any racing title. But when it comes to first-person experiences in which the player is encouraged to walk around and explore virtual environments, this is something of a problem. In fact, the company even had to go as far as to reach out to stop No Man’s Sky Developer, Hello Games, when the team posted videos of them walking around with an Oculus Rift on.
Much of Oculus VR’s focus on input at this point in time seems to be going into interaction instead of movement. But if VR is to become as truly immersive as everyone expects it to, then this is a hurdle that needs to be overcome sooner rather than later.
It’s telling than even Oculus VR itself has resorted to allowing users to stand when demoing its Crescent Bay prototype for the Oculus Rift. Users have had to sign forms to waive the company of any responsibility, with staff then keeping a close eye on them as they hold the wire that attaches the device to a PC in order to keep them from tripping. Obviously once the consumer version of the Oculus Rift launches, the company won’t be asking everyone to sign Health & Safety forms and including a staff member to keep customers safe as they play.
So what can be done to combat the issue? There are some interesting solutions coming to market in the near future, the most obvious of which being omni-directional treadmills, the most prominent of which are Virtuix’s Omni and Cyberith’s Virtualizer. These intriguing devices secure players in a harness and then allow them to run on the spot to simulate movement within a given VR experience. That said, it remains to be seen if these devices will see the kind of mainstream adoption that many are predicting for VR itself in the years to come.
Elsewhere, other VR technologies such as VRCade have managed to create wireless VR experiences in an open environment that allows the user to walk around in a virtual area with the same dimensions as the space they find themselves in. This essentially creates a virtual playground for the user, allowing them to walk around without the fear of running into an object or tripping over something. Still, this isn’t a take-home experience though perhaps there is a future in 3D mapping a user’s own room to allow for this kind of play. Again, that’s somewhat limited to the types of experiences that can be compatible.
Perhaps the answer lies in allowing users a small degree of real movement in order to replicate wider virtual moves. Leaning on one foot in order to move forward, for example, may not be the most immersive solution, but it comes closer than what’s currently possible.
Of course, there are certain measures that VR HMDs themselves can put in place to enhance safety. The Gear VR smartphone-based HMD already allows the use of the Galaxy Note 4’s camera as a follow-through device to glance at the real world. Could sensors that alert users to nearby objects also be a possibility?
In any case, this is an issue that VR needs to solve in the near future. Fans dream of full immersion and, until they can really feel like they have entire control of their body in a VR experience, that won’t be possible.