Google unveils patent for motorised VR footwear providing ‘unconstrained’ movement

Google has submitted patent documents for ‘augmented and/or virtual reality footwear’ – in a potential attempt to solve a key problem with VR around locomotion.

When does a VR world become truly virtual? Of course, put a headset on and you are in a virtual world, but you cannot walk about in it – at least not very far until reality kicks in. Google’s patent aims to enable what they describe as ‘seemingly endless’ walking in a virtual environment, with motors and wheels in the footwear keeping balance and the user remaining still.

“Motorised footwear may be tracked by the system as the user physically moves, for example, walks, in the physical environment,” the patent document notes. “Motor mechanisms of the footwear may be actuated, based on for example a detected physical position in the physical environment of the footwear.

“The motor mechanisms of the motorised footwear can be configured to move the user back into a defined physical area in the physical environment,” the document adds. “This automated, motorised return of the user back (e.g. physically back) into the defined physical area by the motorised footwear, may allow the user to continue to move, or walk, in the physical environment, and to virtually move in the virtual environment, seemingly unconstrained.”

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? The primary issue with VR, or omnidirectional treadmills, is that the user often has to be strapped into it, or have an object in close proximity to hang on to, to stop falling over. Google aims to change this – assuming the patent filing goes any further

The issue of how users interact with their environment has been tackled in the past outside of footwear. Ultrahaptics, a UK-headquartered company, is plotting a future course through ultrasound where users feel sensations through the air, while HaptX, based in Seattle, is looking at how users can feel virtual objects more realistically through its gloves development kit.

You can take a look at the full patent document here.

Picture credit: Google

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