360° treadmill for moving in virtual reality
Funded on Jul 20 2015
What they do: Virtuix has solved the final barrier to making virtual reality real with the first multi-directional treadmill that lets users physically walk, run, and jump in every direction while comfortably remaining in place supported by their harness.
Why it's a big deal: Virtual reality is the future. Facebook spent $2 Billion to acquire Oculus Rift last year, and it’s predicted that 85 million head mounted visual displays will be sold by 2018. But virtual reality will never achieve its potential unless users can move in the virtual world just like they do in real life. The Virtuix Omni solves that problem and opens up exciting new markets for VR.
The market isn’t just gamers. Immersive walkthroughs of architecture plans is in the future, and the armed forces have been searching for a truly immersive combat simulator for years. So it’s no surprise they already have interest from Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
Engineering a brand new concept like this has also come with some attractive patent protection, and the team has leveraged their extensive manufacturing expertise to built a sophisticated and cost effective supply chain for their products in Southern China. It’s no wonder they had one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever, and then went on to raise $7 Million from investors like Mark Cuban.
The Virtuix Omni™ is the first platform for moving freely and naturally in virtual reality, compatible with the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and any other head mounted displays. — Download the entire Virtuix slide deck as a PDF. —
Details of the Omni in our online store
We started off strong with a Kickstarter round oversubscribed by 700%. Since then we've patented the Omni and built a full production line in Southern China.
We've had interest from gaming studios, Best Buy, military contractors, and bluechip technology companies.
The Virtuix Omni is the first ever virtual reality platform for moving freely and naturally in virtual worlds, compatible with the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, or any other head mounted VR displays. The Omni is the first omni-directional treadmill that enables you to walk around naturally and fully immerse yourself in virtual reality; it places your mind and body in the video game. Rather than the old experience of sitting down and pushing buttons on a keyboard or a gamepad, you are standing up and walking around in another world. The Omni creates a level of immersion that cannot be achieved by just sitting down.
The Oculus Rift started a revolution in virtual reality, but that was just the beginning. Now HTC, Samsung, and Sony have all developed their own headsets, and VR is more accessible than ever. All of these devices immerse your vision and hearing in the virtual world, but none of them allow you to actually move and experience the physical aspects of VR. We provide the only solution for movement in virtual reality, and that's the Omni. Instead of sitting and pretending to run and jump, you can actually stand up and run in 360 degrees, and respond in real-time to the virtual world around you.
The most popular video games tend to be first person shooters - Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Grand Theft Auto. All these games involve a first person perspective and a main character that is walking around in the game. These games don't translate well to virtual reality if you are obliged to sit down on a chair and push buttons. That just doesn't work well. You need a device that allows you to stand up, rotate your body naturally, walk and run naturally in the virtual world, and become that character in the game. Virtual reality combines vision, hearing, and motion. The Oculus Rift and others have mastered the first two; we complete the virtual reality experience through natural motion.
The technical term for the Omni is an omni-directional treadmill, but it's really a treadmill without any moving parts, which helps us keep costs down. The Omni is essentially a low friction platform on which the user walks with special Omni footwear. The surface and shoe work together to emulate the natural gait of the user. As the user steps out in any direction, the shoe sole pads provide stability while the low friction surface of the platform allows the foot to track backwards just like a treadmill. At the end of the step the shoe’s toe grips the ground and provides the user the necessary traction to stabilize and take the next step. You can walk and run on the Omni platform much like you do on a regular treadmill, but in all 360 degrees.
We also need to track the user’s movement for use in the virtual world. We’ve developed our own hardware and software to track every movement of the user’s feet and body using inertial trackers in pods on the shoes. At any given time the pods know when you’re feet are moving, where they’re moving, and at what speed, and then our firmware translates these movements into the game. Just as buttons of a gamepad send signals to the game to shoot or swap weapons, our trackers send signals for every movement of the user.
The Omni is unique for all those reasons, but most importantly we work with any game system just like a controller off the shelf. We emulate the exact inputs of a standard game controller, so you just plug it in and you’re off and running.
The Omni outputs signals in the same way a traditional controller does. Just like a controller sends signals for: forward, backward, A button, B button, etc, the Omni knows whether you’re running straight, moving sideways, or jumping and communicates with the console in the same way. In its basic form, it just emulates a game controller and works with any game that uses game controller input.
But that's just the first step. We’re also decoupling the user’s movement from their eyeline. With traditional controls the user looks in the same direction they’re moving - to see the left the user must move left, to see behind they must turn around. With the Omni, the user can look around independently from their movement, just like we do in real life. This is the next step to truly immersive virtual reality. Then once we perfect this freedom of eyesight and movement, we’ll add gun tracking, so the user can also aim their gun independently from where they’re looking.
Regular game controllers and a 2D screen force the user to look, run, and aim all in the same direction. The Omni is the first controller intended to track sight, movement, and hand motion all independently; it’s a remarkable virtual reality experience.
We track two key metrics to ensure every motion is picked up and translated into the game immediately: latency, and directional changes. The first, and most important is latency, or how long it takes for the Omni to track a movement and send it to the game screen. Right now it only takes 0.2 seconds from the moment users lift their foot until they see themselves moving forward in the game. That's low enough not to notice any lag, and we’re continuously improving this speed.
Another important metric is how quickly and how well we differentiate between forward, backwards and sideways. The game should know exactly when the user changes direction with a 95% accuracy, and we want this number even closer to 100%.
Gaming is just the beginning, it's the tip of the iceberg for VR. We started with gaming because gamers love early adoption, they can’t wait to try the latest tech. Our strategy actually mirrors Oculus in many ways, as we started with gaming and a very successful Kickstarter campaign. But this is just the beginning, and we are already expanding to training and simulation for military and law enforcement. Our military prototype is called the Omni Pro. It’s a larger version of the Omni with more features, and our early prototypes have attracted strong attention. We’ve been contacted by several military branches, US intelligence agencies, and large contractors like Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, and many others.
The gaming and military markets are both large and obvious markets for us, but movement simulation will have applications in many more industries like healthcare, virtual tourism, fitness, architecture, education, and design. We’ve had frequent interest from architecture firms who want to use the Omni for virtual walkthroughs of their designs. Imagine being able to walk through and explore your new house in 3D before construction begins. There are so many applications beyond gaming and military training; we look forward to exploring those in the future.
For the Osama Bin Laden raid mission, the Navy constructed a full scale reproduction of the compound so that the Seals could train. With the Omni, the military can simulate any combat mission, with hundreds of variables. Just like the flight simulator before us, the Omni is becoming the holy grail of ground combat simulation. There has never been anything like this for law enforcement or military training. Organizations are contacting us in disbelief because they never thought it possible what we’re doing.
The military is coming to realize how valuable the recent advances in VR are for training. They just recently discovered the Oculus, and they are starting to understand how valuable the Omni is. The global market for military training and simulation is $137 Billion. That number is so large that it sounds ridiculous, so we don’t use it often. But as the Omni can simulate real-life war situations for training purposes, it is bound to capture a fraction of that market.
The military application is not our main focus right now, as we’re currently heads down on the consumer version to ensure we can ship our pre-orders as soon as possible. But as we continue to get exposure, more military and law enforcement clients will pop up. We’ll handle the inbound interest as it comes, and grow our focus on the Omni Pro after we ship our first 4,000 consumer pre-orders.
The virtual reality market is early and small right now. Our current customers are the earliest adopters. But virtual reality is growing fast, and many larger companies are betting on it. Facebook recently invested $2 Billion in VR with Oculus. It’s hard to say how big this market will become, but a study by KZero predicts that 85 million head-mounted displays (that is units not dollars) will be sold by 2018, all of which can be complemented by the Omni. A more conservative study by Gartner says that 25 million units will be sold by 2018. Either way the VR market is taking off and is projected to be large. To asses how big the Omni will get, we have to ask how many of those millions of users will want to stand up and really immerse themselves in the virtual world instead of just sitting down on a chair? Even if only 1 / 20 want to stand and not sit, our market will be significant.
Kickstarter was a great success. We raised $1.1 million which put us into the top ten tech campaigns of all time, at that time. We sold about 2,300 Omnis during the campaign and have pre-sold another 2,000 pre-orders on top of that since our Kickstarter ended. To date we’ve pre-sold well over 4,000 Omnis, which will be delivered starting this summer.
When we launched the Kickstarter campaign we only had a prototype. Moving from just one prototype to a manufacturing process that can produce thousands of units takes time, and we’re finally wrapping up this design and setup process. The Omni is completely new technology, with many different components, many of which must be custom made.
My partner, David Allan, runs our manufacturing arm. He’s lived in China for the last 20 years doing contract manufacturing. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has relationships with manufacturers across East Asia. Thanks to David’s knowledge and experience we are building a strong supply chain for the Omni in China.
Right now we sell the Omni on our website for $699. We are targeting a 50-60% gross margin. As production costs go down, we’ll increase our margins and potentially lower the price of the Omni.
$699 isn’t cheap, but our gamer customers spend $500-$600 on their consoles, and PC gamers easily spend $2,000-$3,000 on their machines. We believe $699 for a fully immersive experience that takes gaming to the next level is feasible, as proven by our growing pre-order sales.
The consumer market is larger than just avid gamers. We get inquiries from gyms and arcades nearly every day. The treadmill market is large, and conventional treadmills easily cost $600 per unit. Instead of running on a normal treadmill, users will now be able to run through their favorite scenery, or on a trail in Hawaii. And the arcade market is interesting as well. Just like Pac-Man was new and exciting 40 years ago, VR is new and cool now, and arcades will see a resurgence with VR for those customers that struggle with the cost and space constraints of the new VR products.
Safety is very important. Luckily for us the Omni is actually safer than a regular treadmill because you can't fall with the support of the safety harness. The harness is secure, and you can use your hands freely to point and shoot. Through all our trials we've never had anyone injure him or herself.
The Omni is also easy to get used to. It’s like riding a bike: the first time requires a few minutes, but then it becomes second nature. Your brain adapts to the feeling quickly, and then it’s just like running on a treadmill. Your brain actually thinks you’re running, jumping, and walking in a virtual world.
Right now we have one competitor: the Cyberith Virtualizer based out of Austria. They also had a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, raising $300,000 for their consumer product. They’ve differentiated themselves by allowing users to crouch, but that also means their hardware is larger and much more expensive than ours. We don’t believe many consumers will pay the premium just to crouch, and in fact most people get tired of crouching quickly. They also use a flat surface which we think is prohibitive to the natural gait of the runner. Despite all this, they’re definitely competition, which we value because they help validate our product.
We believe we can win for a number of reasons. First it's the technology. Our mechanical design is just better than our competition, using a concave surface instead of a flat plate. Also, the Virtualizer only tracks your foot when it’s on the running surface but never while it’s in the air, while we measure every motion of the foot at all times, so we even know when the user has lifted their foot to start walking. Second, our manufacturing process and supply chain in China is really evolved for a company our size, which allows us to keep costs low and prices lower than our competition. Most importantly, it’s incredibly difficult and expensive to bring a large hardware product to market. We raised $7,000,000 so far from investors, so we're well capitalized and we have great access to capital. Cyberith is based in Austria, Europe and has had a $300,000 Kickstarter campaign, which is not nearly enough to bring their product to market. They just told me they were able to finally raise $1,000,000, which is still not enough to make it happen. It's one thing to build a prototype in a garage and put it on Kickstarter, it's another thing to become a sustainable hardware business. So I'm curious to see how they'll make that work.
For us right now, all our focus is on manufacturing. We need to get the first Omnis manufactured and build a streamlined production line. That's not an easy task. We want to make sure the quality is 100%, that all Omnis work 100%, and that those initial reviews are top notch as well. We’re focused on ensuring everything goes smoothly during our launch in the next few months.
I have a Masters in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA. After my MBA I worked at JP Morgan in investment banking because I needed a work visa to stay here in the United States. While at JP Morgan I picked up engineering again and spend my spare time trying to solve the problem of omnidirectional movement. I believed VR would be the next big thing, and I wanted to enable VR users to physically walk around in the virtual world. The Omni became a passion, and I would stay up for hours working on the Omni long after getting home after midnight from my investment banking job.
David Allan is our President and COO. He's a Canadian that lives in China and heads our manufacturing and production. He was previously with Flextronics and has built and led contract manufacturing facilities in Asia for the last 20 years. Doug Shuffield is our Head of Engineering. He came to us from AAI and Symtx. Robert Brackenridge, our Director of Games, is spearheading our developer relations, ensuring we have good relationships with all the game developers. That's our core team. Virtuix currently has 18 employees.
Right now we sell the Omni directly on our website. Once we nail our supply chain we plan to list on Amazon and Newegg. We’ll also add a retail component both here and abroad using a showroom model. The Omni is a sizeable product, so we won’t actually stock shelves, but rather have a full setup with an HMD on display in stores or mall kiosks for customers to try out. Customers can then order directly online in the store. We’ve already begun discussions with Best Buy, Target, and Gamestop.
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