Even with recent improvements in virtual reality technology, it's still almost impossible to physically walk through virtual environments. Now, European researchers have started a project named CyberWalk and they'll demonstrate next week their omni-directional treadmill, named CyberCarpet. According to ICT Results, the researchers 'had to address five key issues: providing a surface to walk on, controlling the surface in a way that minimised forces on the user, developing a non-intrusive tracking system, displaying a high-quality visualisation, and ensuring a natural human perception of the virtual environment.' The researchers think that their new virtual environments would be used by architects and the gaming industry. Other possible applications include training for firemen in dangerous scenarios or helping some people to overcome phobias. But read more...
You can see above a guy walking on a prototype of the CyberCarpet treadmill. (Credit: CyberWalk project) This image has been extracted from a short movie (2 minutes and 6 seconds, 29.3 MB).
This is another 'cyberwalker' and you can see that he almost moves freely, except for a head-mounted display, which does have markers on it. (Credit: CyberWalk project) A public presentation of the CyberCarpet will be featured during the final scientific workshop about this project which will be held on April 17-18, 2008 in Tübingen, Germany. If you want to attend this workshop -- which will cost you €50 -- you'll certainly have the chance to meet Marc Ernst, the coordinator of the CyberWalk project at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics.
Here are some quotes from Ernst. "'A key feature is that you need a relatively large treadmill to simulate natural walking,' explains Ernst. 'The one that will be demonstrated is 6m by 6m, with an active walking area of 4.5m by 4.5m.' According to Ernst, this is the minimum size necessary for 'natural walking'. The treadmill, or CyberCarpet, incorporates several new mechanical solutions, which ensure smooth and safe operation. The key to the CyberCarpet is a platform with a big chain drive. The chain elements are made of conventional treadmills."
This project generated lots of interest in the European research community. "One project partner, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) developed the CityEngine, a software package for quickly creating large-scale virtual environments in particular cities, in various degrees of detail. Combining the CityEngine with CyberWalk will allow people to go beyond strolling through the streets of ancient Pompeii and Rome. Architects, for example, could transport customers into the future, and allow them to walk through buildings even before they have been built." You can see above how the CityEngine could be used by architects. (Credit: ETHZ)
For more information about the CyberWalk project, you can read a general project presentation or get more details on the project's objectives.
Here is an excerpt. "One key idea of CyberWalk is to generate only gentle accelerations of the floor under the user’s feet and to only pull the user in the direction towards the centre of the platform. That is, the user may take a few steps before the platform is fully accelerated (in rotation and translation) and it may take a while to stop after the user stands still. A planar design of the CyberCarpet is key here. The advantage of the proposed design concept is that the forces can be relatively small and therefore should not interfere with natural – quick or slow – walking behaviour. Apart from delivering a better walking experience, this feature will also lead to higher user acceptance and throughput (e.g. of a visitor queue for a display at a museum) as users require less time to adapt to the system. Compared to state-of-the-art technology we envision that the CyberCarpet will be easy to use and will enable high immersive virtual-locomotion by allowing: i) unrestricted omni-directional walking, ii) quick or slow movements, and iii) stepping over and crossing legs."
And if you really want to learn more about various aspects of the project, here is a link to a long list of publications.
Sources: ICT Results, April 11, 2008; and various websites
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