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Google is working on the solution virtual reality needs - smart shoes on wheels

Patent reveals shoes on wheels for making VR spaces feel infinitely huge

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Virtual reality experiences can transport you into a new world in the blink of an eye, surrounding you and completely taking over your eyes and ears. You can look around freely in this new world, and your brain might even be tricked into thinking it's real.

But try walking forwards and the magic quickly falls apart - either when you walk into a wall, or are yanked back by the cable attaching your headset to a computer.

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The problem with virtual reality is how you can only walk a few steps forward before the illusion is shattered.

But Google is hoping to fix this. Described in a patent filed in May this year and published in mid-November, Google is working on shoes which sit on wheels powered by electric motors, which rotate to stop you ever reaching the physical boundaries of a virtual reality experience.

If you are approaching a real-world wall, the wheels will activate and, as you continue stepping forward, bring you back to where you started.

Images with the patent show how the shoes could workGoogle

This technique is similar to the circular treadmills used by some virtual reality systems, where rollers ensure you can't actually walk forward, but can keep moving you ahead to progress through the virtual world. However, these treadmills come with a tether and waist-height bar to stop you from falling over, and in our experience have been difficult to use comfortably.

Google hopes to make the experience feel more natural with what the patent calls Augmented and/or Virtual Reality Footwear.

The patent explains: "A physical position of motorized footwear in a physical environment may be tracked, and movement of the footwear may be translated into corresponding movement in a virtual environment." It goes on to explain that, when the shoes reach a predetermined boundary in the real world, the motors fire up "to move the motorized footwear back into a return zone."

Google

This, the document says, "may allow the user to walk, seemingly endlessly in the virtual environment, while remaining within a defined physical space in the physical environment."

Accompanying images show how the footwear could be fitted with a set of four regular wheels capable of rotating forwards and backwards, tracks, or an omnidirectional system capable of moving in any direction.

If developed into a working product, these shoes could prove revolutionary for VR games and experiences, where the virtual environment can be explored naturally. However, Google will need to work out how to prevent wearers from falling over or becoming disorientated by being pushed backwards by their shoes as they walk forwards.

As ever, we could explain that technology companies regularly file patents for products and services which never become a reality. As such, it is impossible to say for now if these shoes will be successfully produced, let alone sold to the public.

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