This Thing Rules

Cybershoes let you walk in virtual worlds

Unlock yourself from the confines of your apartment with shoes that track your movement into VR games.

Virtual reality is supposed to transport you into other worlds in such a way that feels like you're actually there, suspending disbelief for but a moment. While products like Oculus and HTC's Vive have certainly come a long way in terms of realism, particularly by improving screen resolutions, but there are still limitations.

Photo: Raymond Wong

Notably, the headsets can track your position as you move around your room so that you can naturally walk in games. But if you're like myself and live in a small apartment, you'll constantly be running up against the walls of your player space and be forced to resort to using joysticks. The illusion of being elsewhere is broken. Stick-based locomotion is an immersion killer.

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VR needs solutions to these issues, and Cybershoes might be one. The product frees up movement in small spaces by putting literal trackballs on the bottom of your feet. Instead of walking around your physical space to move in-game, you instead remain stationary, moving your feet back and forth on the ground to create character movement.

The shoes feature a bi-directional trackball for forward and backward movement, while a swivel chair allows you to turn left and right. Cybershoes sells a kit that includes a chair, but if you already own one it's not necessary.

The first iteration of Cybershoes supported only VR headsets wired to a PC, like the Oculus Rift. That leaves out the mass market that has been circling around all-in-one headsets as the future of VR.

But the company recently introduced a new wireless Cybershoes version coming in 2021 with support for the Oculus Quest and Quest 2. A receiver that velcros onto the headset connects via the USB-C port and then creates a Bluetooth connection to the shoes.

The first time I used the Cybershoes was surreal. For a brief moment my brain was confused, thinking that I was actually propelling forward when in fact I was seated stationary in a chair.

There's a small learning curve to using the shoes because you have to sort of glide your feet over the floor rather than actually pressing them down. But the result is quite an interesting experience, and in games like Arizona Sunshine you really can walk around quite easily using the Cybershoes.

Arizona Sunshine by Vertigo Games

That being said, the Cybershoes aren't perfect. They don't work in all Quest games, because titles need to be adjusted to account for seated play in cases when you want to crouch, kneel, and the like. They're also a bit complicated to set up initially.

But the company is constantly adding support for more games. And for someone like myself it's so nice to not be constantly running into the boundaries of my room. It also just feels way more realistic than using janky joystick-based locomotion to walk around.

Cybershoes isn't the only product aimed at giving VR gamers more freedom of movement. A company called Virtuix is developing a "VR treadmill" called the Omni One that uses a weight-bearing arm to hold you in place as you run on a low-friction, omni-directional pad.

It's expected to cost $1,995 when it launches this year, however — probably a niche product compared to the $300 Cybershoes.

Cybershoes is currently running a Kickstarter campaign where you can contribute and pre-order the new Cybershoes kit. For $299 you get a full kit including the shoes, a chair, as well as a copy of Arizona Sunshine. That bundle normally costs $399 on the company's website. You still need to bring your own Quest, of course.

Cybershoes

April

Shipments are expected to begin in April, and if you're worried that this company is vaporware, fear not, the original Cybershoes have been on sale for more than a year.

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