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’).
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.
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.”