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DaVinci Coders
July 19th, 2006 at 7:56 am

Electric Shoes – Perfect for a Virtual Stroll

A pair of motorized roller skates that cancel out a person’s steps is being designed to let users naturally explore virtual reality landscapes in confined spaces.

The "Powered Shoes" were developed by Hiroo Iwata, Hiroshi Tomioka and Hiroaki Yano at the University of Tsukuba in central Japan. The shoes will be demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH 2006 conference on computer graphics and interactive technologies, which takes place in Boston, US, between 30 July and 3 August.

Each shoe is mounted on top of a set of three motorised rollers and is connected by cable to a computer on the user’s back. This computer controls both the motion of skates and a head-mounted display that shows the user a virtual landscape.

As the wearer walks forwards, the connected computer controls the rollers under their feet, cancelling out their strides. The computer also updates the visual display to create the illusion of walking through the virtual world.

A video created by the researchers shows the Power Shoes being used to explore a virtual environment (mpeg format, 1.7MB).

The Japanese researchers hope their invention could provide a simple way to move through virtual reality worlds. "It has often been suggested that the best locomotion mechanism for virtual worlds would be walking, and it is well known that the sense of distance or orientation while walking is much better than while riding in a vehicle," they write on the SIGGRAPH homepage. "However, the proprioceptive feedback of walking [the sense of movement] is not provided in most virtual environments."

Daniel Thalmann is a virtual reality researcher at the Ecole Polytecnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, and believes the system could have value. "If we want to move around and record movement the only way is to use a treadmill," he said. "Something that lets you walk, or even run, in different directions could be useful."

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As the wearer of the Power Shoes walks forwards, the connected computer controls the rollers under their feet, cancelling out their strides.

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