Virtual reality was supposed to be the next big thing, but even with all the billions of dollars invested in companies like Oculus and Vive, many consumers just aren’t interested. Part of the problem is that VR still leaves you tethered to a computer or at least in a limited space that keeps you from feeling like you’re really in the virtual world. Some have suggested building elaborate VR treadmills that let you walk around without going anyplace. Google has just patented something different: motorized VR shoes.
Most current VR implementations require a power and video cable to run from the headset to a computer. Mobile VR and the expensive wireless video rigs can make VR slightly more mobile, but even if you could incorporate walking into a VR experience, it would be catastrophically dangerous. It’s easy to get turned around or confused about where you are in the real world with a headset on. You’d probably trip over something in minutes.
So, what you really want is the sensation of walking without actually going anyplace. Hence, the overly complicated treadmill idea. That’s not to say Google’s wheeled shoes are uncomplicated — they seem like a hugely elaborate solution to what should be a simple problem. They could be pretty cool if they work, though.
The VR shoes described in the patent would respond to your movements as you walk, or try to walk. With each step, the wheels would work to keep you from going anyplace. They would also track your location in the room to ensure you don’t get outside of the boundaries you’ve set. If you do manage to walk yourself into a bad area, the shoes will slide you back to center. Google’s patent covers a few different designs for the shoes including round wheels, tank-like treads, and the omnidirectional Mecanum wheels most often seen on industrial equipment.
It’s unclear if this would actually give the sensation of walking. The movements would need to be subtle because even a little movement that doesn’t match what you see in VR can cause motion sickness in a substantial number of users.
This is still just a patent, and there’s no guarantee Google will even attempt to build these VR shoes. It’s not like Google has shown much interest in making VR a priority. Its Daydream mobile platform suffers from serious neglect. Hey, maybe VR shoes would reignite a passion for VR inside Google.
Now read: HTC Acknowledges Vive Wireless Isn’t Working With AMD Hardware, Offers Refunds, Samsung’s New Windows Mixed Reality Headset Promises Better Displays, and VR Market Expected to Improve Despite Sharp Decline in Sales