Company Unveils Robot Boots for VR Locomotion With Half-Life Demo

A new pair of robot boots may be the future of VR interface, but a Half-Life demo hints at faults.
Brad Bergan

A company called Ekto VR has debuted a pair of robotic boots — called Ecto One — to let users walk and propel themselves through VR environments with real physical steps without moving through the real room, according to the company's website.

A YouTube demonstration (featured below) reveals the power of Ekto VR's robot boots — and they go to market in two to four years, according to UploadVR.


Robot boots let users move in VR

Based in Pittsburgh, the company's new VR robot boots allow wearers to maneuver through virtual realities while remaining in the same physical place. And there are no strings or straps attached.

The shoes use carbon-fiber material Ekto designed and claimed is lightweight — in addition to using HTC's Vive Tracker pucks to register movement in VR, reports Venture Beat.

At the bottom of the device are two rotating plates capable of twisting with the user's motion as they walk through a virtual dream world. Once they place their foot on the ground, a series of wheels pull their leg back while walking forward, presumably generating the feeling of walking without actually moving the user.

The device uses brakes while standing still to ensure against slippage.

Drawbacks to VR robot boots, balance, falling

However, there are drawbacks to the new device. Users have to strap a lot of VR gear to their heads, in addition to their feet — which can leave users feeling like they're inside of an Xbox controller.

Additionally, the video shows how slow and careful one needs to be to function in VR boots, PC Gamer reports. Often in Half-Life, players' natural reaction to in-game developments is instant motion — whether it's fighting back, crouching to hide, or even crawling around on the floor — all of which would be difficult to pull off in a flash with robot boots and clunky headgear.

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If users lose their balance, a quick little stammer-step to the side won't come easy while wearing big robot boots. Falling with all gear attached probably won't feel very nice. Maybe this is what Elon Musk's Neuralink will market itself as something it will one day replace. Until we can log all the way in to virtual worlds with a thought, Ecto One VR boots could be as good as VR interface gets, but they're also — despite valid concerns — worthwhile.

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