MythBuster’s Jamie Hyneman Launches IndieGogo to Build VR Shoes that Act Like Mini Treadmills

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Jamie Hyneman of MythBuster’s fame may be retired from the show, but he’s still tinkering in the lab, this time with a new project in mind that aims to address one of the most pernicious problems to date, VR locomotion. With a few prototypes in hand, Hyneman has launched an IndieGogo campaign to fund a more consumer-ready version of his ‘shoes with tiny treadmills’.

Dubbed ‘Vortrex’, the VR shoes were first conceived when Hyneman strapped cordless drills to a pair of roller skates to see if he could speed up the normal skating pace. Using what he learned combined with a long history as a special effects supervisor, the new VR shoes are less about moving the user forward like a roller skate and more about keeping the user immobile like on a treadmill. The campaign aims to offer a VR walking experience that crucially reduces the pain points of owning an omnidirectional treadmill like Virtuix Omni or Kat VR; hefty pieces of kit that require a dedicated space.

Lead by Hyneman, the team is asking for at least $50,000 to make their seventh generation prototype of the shoes that both offer a consumer-level fit and finish while still embodying all of the technology necessary to essentially let you naturally walk in place. Unlike many IndieGogo campaigns, if the initial funding goal isn’t reached, money will refund to the would-be backers (‘fixed funding’, not ‘flex funding’).

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Because the campaign is essentially asking for money with no hopes of returning a viable consumer product to backers—another funding campaign will take care of that down the line—the team is offering a few different survival kits emblazoned with ‘The Hyneman’ to sweeten the pot.

The planned prototype will supposedly contain Bluetooth antennae, an IMU, high-torque brushless motors, ‘force’ sensors, and infrared sensors for obstacle detection.

image courtesy Jamie Hyneman

Because this is essentially still in the research and development phase, there are still a few serious issues the project will have to address down the line including safety, practicality, battery life, cost… etc. It remains to be seen if the shoes can even provide a convincing walking experience, as the added weight may interfere with a natural gait (like walking in ski boots). Although it’s stated the shoes will be adjustable, accommodating the wide range of feet sizes may also complicate manufacturing down the line, necessitating the production of several versions of the shoes.

For all his low-key on screen snark, the mustached mad scientist is dead serious when it comes to telling it how it is. As Hyneman puts it: “It might work. It might not work. We’ll know soon.”

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  • sebrk

    If this is working satisfying it would be a game changer. I remember when I first got the touch controllers: a completely new experience. Now the one thing that is bugging me is walking and the cord to the headset. I could care less about resolution at this point.

    • Kenny Thompson

      I’d wager the next game changer will be Santa Cruz.

  • dk

    did indiegogo have conditions that u have to ship what u r promising or something…….well I guess he can ship some crap …and that will be the end of this campaign for mocking kickstarters

    • David Mulder

      But he isn’t promising the product. That’s what makes this indiegogo so pure to the spirit of kickstarting. I think the idea is horrible, but here you are properly backing the idea rather than preordering a product.

  • Mei Ling

    It won’t be easy hence they’re trying to fund the feasibility stage. If it works out then fantastic! But there are a myriad of problems and safety issues with this approach.

  • The team needs to make these as strap on units. Then they don’t need to worry about several different sizes. Otherwise they are in the shoe business as well.

    • Get Schwifty!

      Yeah I have to agree with on that one – I actually think if there is the proper resistance and you can account for each person’s slightly different foot alignment which is rarely perfect, there is a possibility it can work. I’d still be very wary of using this in areas where a fall against a sharp edge could happen though. Jamie is not a dumb guy in the least so I am sure these are all considerations.

      Rather than a wheel and tread design, it would seem to me a series of small balls, basically turning your shoes into a pair of upside down trackball systems makes more sense though, in combination with a pad acting more or less like a giant mouse pad with some kind of extra resistance near the edge to let you know you are almost off the mat. The mat would also serve as at least a partial cushion if you fell against hard floor.

  • Dude

    I would buy this

  • Andreas Zetterström

    I know this is going to sound like I make this up now, but I have actually thought about something just like this for the better part of a year and is at the point where I’m going to start 3D-printing test platforms. My idea is much simpler though, less sensors, normal wheels (no catepillars) at the front and only the front wheels have motor power. And no built in shoe, just a platform to strap your foot to.

    • Walextheone

      Cool! I hope get a prototype going :)

    • Oscar

      Intressant! Lycka till!

  • Cybershoes

    Electric VR shoes are a great idea. We’ve also invested time into Active Cybershoes and could prove that the concept works.

    We’ve collected prior art here https://www.3d.run/archives/422 and we will release our subsequent findings soon.

    We wish Jamie all the best on his journey. Until vortrex comes true, we encourage you to go for seated CYBERSHOES: http://www.cybershoes.io

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0176ad91c0962a44c54c291286f74f6244eec97a02d4660dedd2c06ca654beec.gif

    • daveinpublic

      Why does this image make me laugh so much?!

  • LowRezSkyline

    This seems practical and affordable; something previous attempts at this failed on. I like the idea, hopefully it works well and solves this issue.

  • Blinko23

    Fantastic idea! I would buy these in a heartbeat if they actually work and are supported by most games. VR has been the tech of my dreams so far. But the inability to walk where I want has been super frustrating.

    • Ted Joseph

      Same here. After finishing a few more maps in Arktika last night I was blown away how amazing VR is becoming! I cant wait for 200 deg FOV, and enhanced locomotion like this idea above! Great to be alive!

  • George Vieira IV

    As much as I want to like this idea, I’m pretty sceptical.

    One major issue I see in this that it only deals with one direction of movement. Even if you don’t allow side strafing, there is still the problem of people who walk pigeon toed or toes in. If you are crouched down, you don’t walk with each foot pointing straight forward.

    • David Mulder

      This exactly. Walking straight forward is pretty boring and useless in VR most of the time. Sure, it might be theoretically possible to make a shoe supporting 2D walking, but that’s a few orders of magnitude more complex than what they are doing now. Give me a small room with redirected walking over this anytime.

    • WyrdestGeek

      I also agree.

      The minute you get into some kind of action-y thing, you’re going to be wanting to do stuff like crouch and scoot around and etc.

      Plain old walking might be good if you were doing Plain Simple Walking Simulator or something. But that’s about it.

    • yag

      Another major issue : I don’t see how it can work efficiently without proper tracking (IMU only).

  • Ted Joseph

    I can just see me wiping out on my A$$ or cracking my head off my desk when trying to catch someone in multiplayer… Lets see what happens though. Creative minds spark innovation!

  • Ted Joseph

    Thinking about Facebooks Santa Cruz. Hopefully it can map out a huge park for example, and let people run around in a virtual environment, untethered, etc. That would be awesome!

  • VR Geek

    If Virtuix tracked your actual feet versus the horrible firection detection they actually shipped with, they would have been the system to beat. Unfortunately, they delivered on all fronts but not the most important. I sold mine as it made me so crazy sick and I am not even susceptible to motion sickness like most.

    Will these new shoes work? Very doubtful, but I sure hope so as someone is going to crack this but and VR location systems for the home will be as common as TV stands and coffee tables of the past.

  • daveinpublic

    I applaud the effort, but it seems impossible from my vantage point. Usually Kickstarters require you to have a prototype, but I guess you don’t have to on IndieGoGo. Still wondering if motors will compensate for the steps you take, or if gravity will make you stay in place while the wheels turn. I can’t see it being motors that compensate, because the computer would have to know what you’re going to do before you do.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    I don’t see this being a practical solution, and I also don’t see how they could make this safer than something like the Virtuix, which keeps you in place and stop you from falling over (just think what would happen if the power runs out, of one of the wheels just breaks).

  • Guilherme Sampaio

    trolling

  • Lynx

    I have seen this before. The idea is possible. It would be neat to see how his product compares up against it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYE6dqaereU

  • fuyou2

    Another Retarded Idea… Come on Jamie, you don’t know shit about dynamic control issues that will plaque this idea.

  • Ed

    It’s a fun idea and seems worth supporting just to see what we can learn from the attempt. It seems to me that they will need to solve for sideways motion as well before this nut is cracked. Very interested to see how this develops (and looking forward to the Tested coverage haha). Godspeed on this quest.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Not trusting anyone using crocs for prototypes. Or gifs instead or sketchfab. Or no concept videos showing the actual way it works.

  • brubble

    …how? Next please.