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Fun Innovations Friday: Disney's VR Treadmill Adds Even More Magic to the World of VR Gaming

May 10, 2024
Holotiles from a Disney Imagineer act as a walking pad that lets you move in any direction while always bringing you back to the center so you don't walk off of it.

One of my favorite memories from visiting Disney World is the Haunted Mansion ride—specifically the floating and dancing ghosts. I was around 10, I think, and it was the coolest thing I had seen. 

Well the genius engineering mind behind those ghosts, Lanny Smoot—a Disney Research Fellow and longtime member of Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development—has created a new type of technology that will likely change the world of VR gaming as we know it. 

Smoot has developed a walking pad or a walking treadmill, but not like you're thinking. This walking pad is "the world’s first multiperson, omnidirectional, modular, expandable, treadmill floor." It looks like omnidirectional conveyors, but you can walk on it while it detects your subtle directional movements and speed—moving with you but bringing you back to the center.

Specifically created for VR gaming, its goal is to remove VRs current issue of stationary play that also sometimes causes disorienting issues where people have run into a wall in their own house.

The walking pad helps to bridge the gap between virtual and physical realities by letting users navigate virtual environments with natural movement. With the treadmill-like design, users can walk, run, and explore digital landscapes, while staying in one place walking unlimited distances without the issue of accidentally walking into walls or off of its surface.

Called HoloTile, the unique device is composed of individual 'tiles' that look like circles from the top, but are actually a cone shape that rotate and change pitch to adapt to a user's stride to simulate walking in any given direction.

Smoot showcases a prototype version of the moving floor in the video below.

Smoot says that in addition to its use for VR, HoloTile could also be used for theatrical stages to allow “performers to move and dance in new ways, or stage props and structures to move around or appear to set themselves up.”

Each cone has integrated motion-tracking sensors that continuously monitor user's movements, capturing subtle changes in direction and speed as they navigate virtual environments. By accurately interpreting these movements, the pad synchronizes physical actions and virtual responses, creating a truly immersive experience.

The pad easily integrates with existing VR hardware and software ecosystems whether users use standalone VR headsets, PC-based systems, or console platforms, offering a plug-and-play experience without requiring big modifications or additional equipment expenses.

Smoot is working on developing the invention further such as haptic feedback and spatial awareness.

In January, Smoot was also the first Disney Imagineer inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He's also only the second individual from The Walt Disney Company to be inducted—the first being Walt Disney, honored posthumously in 2000 for the multiplane camera