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Virtual reality

Virtual realityResearchers have invented a treadmill that enables people to walk in any direction, and it could allow people to physically move around virtual worlds.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics have built a prototype for the CyberCarpet – a motion platform which allows you to walk at a natural speed in any direction. The platform is made up of a number of treadmills, creating a 4.5m by 4.5m square.

‘Omni-directional treadmills’ are not a new concept, and different types have been researched and tested by the American military. Prototype moving platforms have also been developed by the gaming community, who have been looking for a way to provide players with a realistic virtual reality environment.

Previous ideas include a set of moving floor tiles, and a giant moving hamster ball. However, Dr Marc Ernst, who is leading the CyberCarpet project, claims that “This is the first omni-directional platform that allows near natural walking."

The Institute is now looking at ways in which the CyberCarpet can be combined with virtual reality technology, to create a 'Star Trek' style ‘holodeck.’ If the project is successful, a user would be able to walk around on the platform wearing a headset, and be placed in a pre-designed scenario. The first project for the Institute is to recreate the ancient city of Pompeii, so that users can get a genuine feel for the town as they stroll along the virtual streets. Dr Ernst, says "Pompeii is a great showcase because it lets you discover a city that no longer exists."

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