Omni-Directional Treadmill

Walk forwards or backwards, left or right. It makes no difference. Whatever direction you walk in, the omni-directional treadmill, developed by Virtual Space Devices, moves beneath your feet to match where you're going. It's like a real-life holodeck. Check out the video.

When I first watched it I was skeptical that the machine could actually do what its makers were claiming. For instance, it seemed to me that the guy in the video spends a lot more time walking left and right than he does going north and south. And perhaps it's all just some kind of camera trick

But after browsing through a technical paper about the invention (click the pdf link in the top right of this page to find the paper), I'm more convinced that it's real. The paper isn't easy to understand, but this passage offers an explanation of how the machine works:
The basic principle of the ODT consists of two perpendicular treadmills, one inside of the other. The top belt, comprised of an array of freely rotating rollers lies atop a second, orthogonally oriented belt also comprised of rollers. Each belt is made from approximately 3400 separate rollers, woven together into a mechanical fabric... Because both the top roller belt and the bottom roller belt are bi-directional, all planar vectors may be generated. The surface moves in any direction, allowing the user to walk a circular path if desired. When the user is moving, the entire active surface area is in motion. The user’s feet contact multiple active rollers, thus creating the effect of a flat and uniform surface.
I really don't understand the mechanics of it, but they sound like they know what they're talking about. And in this case, when combined with the video evidence of the machine actually working, that's going to have to be good enough.


Posted on Sat Aug 11, 2007


Having one of those to accompany a night of good hard drinking would be awesome.
Posted by Renquist  in  Glasgow, Scotland  on  Sat Aug 11, 2007  at  05:29 AM
I am seriously hoping that this is true because I think it can lead to some really interesting developments. The only thing that came to mind while watching the demonstration is that he doesn't really walk very far in any particular direction. Combine that with the blue tarps hiding the surroundings and it is possible that what the video actually shows is a large flat panel (the gray) that sits on rollers and is much larger than the black "surrounding" platform. The direction of the "strips" on the gray area and the look of the surface look to me like this is what is really happening. Again, I hope not, but I can see how the video could be hoaxed that way.
Posted by Transfrmr  in  deep trouble  on  Sat Aug 11, 2007  at  10:49 AM
Actually, wouldn't one layer of spheres and a large covering that isn't attached to anything work? The spheres would rotate in any direction and the covering would just free-float and travel around the machine. However, just as I was typing this, I began wondering about the corners, both on the displayed machine and my idea. How does the displayed machine handle someone walking toward the corners? I can see how that would kill my idea, but I can't see how walking toward the corners is handled with this device. Maybe it isn't as omnidirectional as claimed? Even if it is real.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Sat Aug 11, 2007  at  12:07 PM
That's the same problem I ran into in picturing how it works Christopher. The corners just don't make sense. Glad I'm not the only one having trouble picturing the mechanics smile
Posted by Transfrmr  in  deep trouble  on  Sat Aug 11, 2007  at  01:12 PM
Go to their webpage. there is a graphic that actually makes sense to me.
I'm not sure my words can describe it better:
Imagine caterpillar tracks (i.e. like on a tank). Each Segment on these tracks is a threadmill on its own, running perpendicular to the movement of the main track.
A few adjustments in length and width of the segments and the gaps between them and you've got your omni-threadmill.
Posted by P.falc  on  Mon Aug 13, 2007  at  01:32 AM
This looks a lot like something I saw years ago. It was the "input" device for a Virtual Reality device. The users could walk or run in the desired direction and the projected computer displays updated accordingly.
Posted by gcason  on  Mon Aug 13, 2007  at  09:43 AM
Who cares? What's so exciting about a treadmill that goes in any direction?
Posted by Sakano  in  Ohio  on  Mon Aug 13, 2007  at  06:01 PM
Thanks P.falc. I had looked through the PDF and website, but still couldn't picture it. Your explanation helped something to click and I now see how this is working smile
Posted by Transfrmr  in  deep trouble  on  Mon Aug 13, 2007  at  11:05 PM
OK, you've got two seperate treadmills - one going north (0 degrees) and south (180 degrees) and the other going east (90 degrees) and west (270 degrees). You can walk in those four directions but not in any other. If you try to walk at, say, 45 degrees the treadmill binds and freezes.

Now, say the north-south treadmill is on top of the east-west treadmill. The top treadmill will prevent you from being able to use the bottom one unless the entire top treadmill, rollers and all, is moved by your feet as you walk.

I don't see how this can work.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Tue Aug 14, 2007  at  01:52 AM
it's not a "Treadmill" it's a tent pushed by human power across the floor giving the effect that the floor is moving.
Posted by Xer0-  in  Pittsburgh  on  Sun Aug 26, 2007  at  05:23 PM
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