Real shoes go for a virtual walk
BOSTON--Put down that joystick and start walking. As part of the Emerging Technologies exhibit at Siggraph 2006 here, a student group from the virtual reality lab at the University of Tsukuba in Japan has developed virtual shoes.
Well, the Powered Shoes themselves are real, but putting them on allows the wearer to walk through a virtual world. Do I hear gamers salivating?
The shoes used in the demonstration here looked like a cross between a Birkenstock and an old-fashioned roller skate. However, the technology can be applied to any footwear. Each shoe's sole has three sets of motorized rollers that drive the skate backward in measure with the pace of the walker to cancel motion and keep the walker in place.
"You can walk through a virtual world, but be positioned here," said Hiroaki Yano, who, along with Hiroo Iwata and Hiroshi Tomioka, developed the device.
The Powered Shoes additionally have sensors on the toe of each one that allow the shoes to serve as a locomotion interface, registering every step with the computer program. In the technology's current form, direction is changed by rotating the computer and monitor around a circular track on the floor that the walker stands inside of.
The shoes achieve essentially the same effect as a treadmill, without a giant contraption taking up space in your apartment. On their own, the creators joked, Powered Shoes could be used for indoor walking when winter makes it difficult and indoor walks for restless dogs.
A more serious application for Powered Shoes is use in conjunction with robotic devices employed in search and rescue, or other places humans may want to "walk" through, but can't. Walking, something that comes naturally to humans, may be an easier way to manipulate robotic devices than a controller.