The hottest crowdfunded gaming device of 2013 could end up being Virtuix's Omni virtual-reality treadmill, which, in just 48 hours, has already netted a stunning sum of $600,000 in Kickstarter pledges from around the world.
Virtuix may have actually come up with a sensible physical platform that lets a gamer run or jump seamlessly on an enclosed octagon-shaped treadmill and see those actions mirrored in a video game.
After stepping into the octagon, Omni users slip inside a circular ring (with an attachment belt) that prevents them from toppling over while moving. Other than that, the concept seems simple: if you run forward on the Omni, you run forward in a game; if you crouch, you crouch in the game, and so forth. The recommended -- almost required -- Omni shoes don't seem so bad, either, as they contain a few protrusions similar to a cycling shoe that let you run easily on the Omni without fear of sliding around aimlessly.
While this all sounds exciting, these sorts of products usually get murky when the question of compatibility comes in. The Omni sails effortlessly past any potential woes with one simple fact: the associated treadmill software generates keystrokes based on your movements, meaning that at a bare minimum, the Omni can work with any game that uses keyboard input. Check out videos of many popular games being played with the Omni, or scroll down to watch Omni and Battlefield 3 in action.
To spice things up even further, Virtuix developed some compelling compatibilities with Microsoft's Kinect motion-tracking camera and the Oculus Rift VR headset (as well as other cameras and head-mounted displays). This idea of blending physical and visual motion-capture interfaces could lead to a nirvana-like gaming experience -- perhaps the gaming experience that might just become the most desirable for those seeking absolute immersion. With all three devices working together, a gamer would have highly accurate movement, vision, and touch sensors tracking everything, allowing one to virtually travel and attack (with their hands and feet, respectively) while simultaneously having the ability to turn his or her head in any direction and see that direction in the virtual world.
Suddenly, the old keyboard and mouse combo looks like something out of the Stone Age. One day I'll be telling my kids how we used to move around in games using the WASD keys. I can already hear the response: "You mean you have to use your hands? That's like a baby's toy!"
Wear and tear
For those concerned about how long this treadmill can last, Virtuix says the Omni surface isn't coated in any protective material, but the low-friction surface should withstand a fair bit of abuse over time. We'll see about that. According to a FAQ, the Omni, while in use, produces sounds equivalent to a regular treadmill and shouldn't inspire your neighbors to create voodoo dolls in your likeness. Virtuix also says that anyone from 4 feet 8 inches to 6 feet 5 inches, and up to 285-pounds can use the treadmill, which should suit most.
Due to the explosive interest, the Omni seems harder and harder to cheaply obtain as the days pass and more people get in line. As of this writing, obtaining the 110-pound treadmill package (which includes platform, shoes, belt, and tracking hardware/software) would cost $429 minimum, but that's not considering additional shoes ($49) or shipping. Other more expensive pledge levels exist for those seeking fancier options.
Virtuix plans to initiate Omni mass production in late December and start shipping in January 2014.