CyberWalk: Enabling Unconstrained Walking in Virtual Worlds

Despite recent improvements in Virtual Reality technology at the time of the Cyberwalk Project it was still impossible to physically walk through virtual environments. In this project our goal was to significantly advance the scientific and technological state-of-the-art by enabling quasi-natural, unconstrained, and omni-directional walking in virtual worlds. To achieve this visionary goal we followed a holistic approach that unites science, technology and applications. CyberWalk developed a completely novel concept for a high-fidelity omni-directional treadmill. A video of the treadmill is showen below.

At the end of the project we had an easy-to-use device that was constructed to fit individual needs, independent of gender or age. Its widespread use is facilitated by the fact that users can get quickly prepared to use it, as it consists of a planar basis and the visual tracking that supports the control operates marker-less (i.e. no special costumes have to be put on and no markers need to be attached to the body first). One only has to put on a Head Mounted Display, through which the virtual environment is displayed.  The concept of motion control behind this treadmill will focus on diminishing the forces exerted on the walking user, by minimizing the overall accelerations. To place the developments on a solid human-centred footing CyberWalk has continuously pushed research in the field of cognitive/behavioural science and determined the necessary psychophysical design guidelines and appropriate evaluation procedures. The CyberWalk project showcased its developments via a physical walk-through through the virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Pompeii before desruction.  However, the CyberWalk approach is also relevant for many other application areas such as medical treatment and rehabilitation (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, phobia, etc.), entertainment, sports (e.g. training facilities, fitness centres), behavioural science, education (museums), training (maintenance teams, security guards, etc.), and architecture (exploring large virtual construction sites). 

The CyberWalk Project has been conducted when I was still at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen in collaboration with Prof. Heinrich Bülthoff. Other Partners in the Project were the TUM (Prof. Ulbrich), the ETH Zürich (Luc van Gool) and the University of Roma La Sapienza (Alessanrdo De Luca) 


This movie is by Prometheus TV in 2008. Thanks to Jan Souman walking on the treadmill though the streets of Virtual Pompeii.