Disney Advances VR Treadmill Technology with HoloTile

Disney Advances VR Treadmill Technology with HoloTile
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Image Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Disney has been long been a source of innovation in creative experiences, drawing on the skills of its top-tier inventors and engineers to develop concepts that move an entire medium forward. Utilizing their uniquely extensive set of resources, Disney has made a significant development in VR technology with the announcement of the HoloTile, a floor-mounted treadmill that emphasizes scalability as a part of its offering. When paired with existing VR offerings, the HoloTile shows significant potential across a wide set of VR and immersive applications that would otherwise be infeasible.

VR treadmills are a novel, but relatively unexplored concept. The most commonly-found versions, such as the Virtuix Omni and the KAT Walk, restrain the user in a bowl-like omnidirectional treadmill. Working in tandem with the user's VR headset, these VR treadmills make for an immersive and engaging experience. While these options represent a significant portion of VR treadmills, they also highlight a key issue with the technology: The price tag. The high cost of this peripheral hardware makes it difficult to justify a purchase, both for potential software developers and for consumer/commercial applications. Dedicated enthusiasts have also attempted to alleviate the cost through DIY methods, but still face a scarcity in supported software.

Lanny Smoot, inventor of the HoloTile, shows off how the technology works

Enter: The HoloTile. The HoloTile itself is an array of hexagonal tiles, with multi-directional inputs embedded into each tile. These inputs, activated by motion and lidar sensor technology, act against the user to re-center them. In contrast to other solutions on the market, the HoloTile is highly modular, allowing for installation or removal of tiles as needed. The potential benefit of this is multifold: the HoloTile can scale in size to suit any room or application. It has a very low profile. It doesn't require a restraint to operate. It can even support multiple users at once, something no other VR treadmill can claim.

The HoloTile is the brainchild of Lanny Smoot, Disney Imagineer and Research fellow. Smoot's work has been an integral part of Disney's experiences, including developing cameras for the Animal Kingdom Theme Park, realistic lightsabers for Star Wars attractions, and most recently, the HoloTile. Altogether, Smoot holds over 100 patents in his name, 74 of them being in partnership with Disney. Smoot was recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his contributions, making him one of two people from Disney bestowed with this honor. The other person was Walt Disney himself, inducted for his invention of the multiplane camera.

The HoloTile is still an experimental concept, and almost certainly one that requires a significant amount of programming and proprietary configuration to make work. That being said, there's clear potential for the HoloTile to become a regular staple in VR hardware peripherals. The adoption rate of hardware is a major challenge in the VR industry, relying on developers to create appealing experiences for prospective users. By potentially lowering the barrier to VR treadmills, HoloTile presents the opportunity to make incredibly immersive, yet practically feasible experiences for users in the future.

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