Roto VR has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for its rotating chair design that promises to reduce simulator induced nausea, and give the user more control inside the virtual environment without getting tangled up in wires.

Roto VR, a London based company, have built a novel take on the office swivel chair that aims to eliminate the most nauseating part of moving around in virtual environments: the dreaded yaw rotation, an unfortunately necessary part of traditional in-game locomotion that requires the user to rotate the virtual world around them while remaining physically stationary. Although some experienced VR enthusiasts have the ability to build up a tolerance to the nausea, not everyone is so lucky, with legendary developer and Oculus CTO John Carmack going as far to call traditional yaw control techniques used by game controllers “VR poison,” saying in a tweet during CES 2015 that “removing it may be the right move — swivel chair/stand or don’t play.” Carmack had previously spoken on what he terms the “yaw navigation issue” during his 2014 Oculus Connect keynote, stating that “…this is a bigger deal than you might imagine”.

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While game developers have since instituted a number of techniques to mitigate its effect, like “VR comfort mode,” such control schemes often come at the cost of infringing on overall immersion.

Roto VR is proposing a solution, and a deceivingly simple one at that. At its most basic level, Roto is a low-profile motorized base with incorporated foot controller that replaces the wheely bit of your office chair, and rotates the seated user in 360 degrees at a max speed of 35 RPMs with an upper limit of 250 lbs of cargo. The most basic model however is decidedly aimed at mobile VR fans, which integrates its controls via Bluetooth for use with wireless VR headsets like Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard.

roto with chair

The motorized base is modular, good news to anyone who’s spent a large amount of time getting the butt-groves in their gaming chair just right, because Roto features the option to either bring your own chair via their ‘universal chair adapter’, or opt in for a Roto-built chair at the premium of £219 (~$325) extra.

Roto VR Kickstarter Campaign

roto v rchair

This is all well and good for mobile VR users who have no trouble spinning around freely without the constant menace of tangled cords, but what about the tethered VR headsets that rely on HDMI and USB cables for power and data transmission? I sat down with Elliott Myers, a long-time game peripherals designer (formerly of now defunct Gamester) and one of the minds behind Roto to find out more.

“One of the biggest problems with virtual reality right now is you put the headset on, but they don’t actually turn around and look behind them. They end up playing it like a normal video game… One of the reasons people don’t turn around is because it requires some sort of physical exertion. There has to be some really big incentive for someone to have to turn around. And what happens is people use that right thumb stick and the world rotates around them, your inner-ear isn’t moving and that induces nausea.”

roto vr swivel adapter
Roto’s swivel adapter showing HDMI, and 2 USB ports

Myers then told me that they’ve combated this by integrating an optional DK2 slip-ring adapter that allows you to plug all cables directly into the base station, letting you spin with vestibular system and afternoon’s lunch thankfully unperturbed. Myers also assured me that Roto works with all games, movies and headsets ‘out of the box’ as a basic right thumbstick input, but if future headsets adopt a different standard besides HDMI and USB connection, the slip-ring adapter will need a corresponding update—not exactly a cheap part to replace at what now costs £100 ($150) extra, although we admittedly haven’t really seen any other cable management solution in the marketplace to compare it to.

Things have also certainly changed from their first stab effort in January, a fairly large prototype called VRXplorer that didn’t make it beyond some preliminary market testing. This was in part due to its size, weight and inability to service VR headsets tethered to desktops. Roto VR has since shown an intermediary prototype at SouthWest VR Conference in Bristol that in comparison is greatly reduced in size. Provided Roto reaches its £85,000 ($125,000) funding goal, the final consumer version of the chair base will only be a meager 65cm (25in) diameter x 10cm (4in) height.

Funding Tiers (estimated delivery in Nov 2015)

  • £199 Tier – ROTO PLATFORM – Supports Samsung Gear VR & Google Cardboard – Includes Footpad Controls & Bluetooth connectivity for wireless HMDs.
  • £299 Tier – ROTO PLATFORM + TANGLE FREE ADAPTER FOR OCULUS – Also supports Samsung Gear VR & Google Cardboard – Includes Footpad Controls & Bluetooth connectivity for wireless HMDs.

Extras (shipping costs included)

  • Add £219 to the base price for Roto Chair
  • Add £160 to the base price for Roto Table
  • Add £369 to the base for Roto Chair & Table

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  • kalqlate

    Not too many ~$15 Cardboarders (and variants), perhaps not even one, will be willing to spend $300 on this. Perhaps, with the help of Google baking VR into Android and providing hardware specs, the next generation of phone+VR will have performance on par with GearVR (or better) as standard. THEN, sales of this chair might take off.

    • Scott Hayden

      Hi kalqlate. It’s important to note that this chair could also appeal to DK2 owners (and any other wired VR headsets to come) due to the base’s swivel adapter. What you’re referring to is the base model that caters to both Cardboard and Gear VR devices, the latter of which costs $200 for the headset + and upwards of $700 for the required Samsung Note 4.

      • kalqlate

        Yes. Note that I limited my comment to Cardboarders and Cardboarder variants: “Not too many ~$15 Cardboarders (and variants)…”

        • Nick vB

          Fair enough, but you get what you pay for in this life….

          A certain level of commitment is going to be required for a decent experience:

          http://id-r-mcgregor.blogspot.ca/2015/02/the-oculus-rift-and-swimming-pools.html

          I think the Roto VR could actually be the sweet-spot for many people.

          • kalqlate

            Sure. That’s why Cardboarders will certainly upgrade to a GearVR, Rift, or Vive before even vaguely considering a $300 chair. My point has been all along that the Roto VR is top-level, top-dollar while Cardboard is bottom-level, bottom-dollar. Rarely if ever in the case of VR the twain shall mix.

  • Nick vB

    The price-point may be an issue for some, but that’s mainly because people are under-estimating the real value of the Roto’s key features, trying to keep their marketing message simple is tricky when you are solving several issues simultaneously. The motorisation is obviously perfect for vehicle simulation games, but there’s more to it than that, so many other possibility’s.

    Anchoring the body’s physical orientation into the virtual space is fundamentally important – whether you are seated or standing. It solves the unintuitive control-scheme issues at a stroke, the fact it also cures motion sickness for most people is just an added bonus IMO.

    Pitching de-coupled controls and foot-plate navigation is going to be really difficult at the moment, many won’t appreciate the value of fully de-coupling head & body control because they just haven’t had the chance to try it. In fact, it could be argued that most typical Rift + Game-Pad users haven’t truly experienced VR yet ! (by most reasonable definitions). It would be a real shame if people only work that out after their KickStarter has finished.

  • David Mulder

    Honestly, I think a non-motorized swivel chair specifically developed for VR could actually make sense, but this is just far far too expensive to be worth it. Motorization is only ‘necessary’ for those cases where you get moved around by the game, which is not the case for most games (I can only think of race games where that is the case). Just make a cheap swivel chair that reports it’s rotation and has a couple USB ports and a HDMI port that rotate *with* you and you should be ready to go. You don’t even need the table to rotate with you and the Oculus tracking solution will be 360 so you don’t need that mounted on the chair itself (and it’s not necessary with the HTC Vive either).

    • Nick vB

      I’m sure the price could come down in the future, with a volume production run, but the motorisation is actually very important at the moment. VR developers are somehow going to have to “rehabilitate” a generation of gamers raised on stick-yaw turning, this behaviour is a hard-wired reflex for many and the Roto cures their motion sickness whilst they learn to “break the habit” and adjust to fully de-coupled control schemes. You can always deactivate the motor in certain content.

      It is also a key part of 360 movie viewing, allowing the director can steer the viewer, as well viewing some existing “4D cinema” experiences. You can even use it for certain traditional movie content, by synchronising the chair rotation with the camera, POV sequences or carefully selected panning shots etc. It’s actually a great fit for cardboard / Gear VR in that respect. The optimal position of the tracking camera depends on many factors, but we need this level of flexibility at the moment, to prevent occlusion with DK2, hand-tracking etc. New tracking kit and SDKs will finally be available soon giving us the option to integrate multiple systems. Having a cast-iron yaw reference will be very helpful there.

      • David Mulder

        Well, regarding cinema (and all those kind of applications), I have talked with various guys considering VR cinema and nobody would even consider making cinema which would limit themselves to such a small market. As in, not a chance. Justifying making for-VR videos and movies is already hard enough.

        Secondly, Roto only solves one specific part of motion sickness, it still is not able to fully control the vestibular system (specifically only on one axis) and the mismatch between the information from the vestibular system and the eyes is only one of the causes of motion sickness. So calling it a cure is quite over stretching it.

        Additionally I have never seen people who had a hard time getting used to rotating in a chair instead of with a thumbstick… I mean, out of the 200 or so demos I have given I think around 20 included a demo where rotating in a chair was a fully supported option and I did not see a single person having a hard time with that. Not the biggest pool size, but still.

        Honestly, all considered I think the only serious market for motorized swivel chairs is for people for who get easily motion sick *and* for whom the physical exercise of moving their legs during VR is too tiring… which all in all can’t be that big of a market, as rotating a swivel chair really isn’t that tiring.

        PS. When I say it was fully supported it was as supported as the cables allowed in my DIY setup xD Seriously, such a pity that wireless streaming for VR headsets is extremely difficult to make fast and reliable enough.

  • Nick vB

    You can to achieve very compelling results with existing video content; it would not have to be made specifically for the Roto. If camera tracking data is available you can certainly make use of it, but you can also use automated motion-vector analysis or just “manually” sync a motor control stream to the video. You should see some public demos soon.

    You misunderstood me, I wasn’t suggesting that turning a chair was somehow difficult for people to grasp – that fact is most gamers just won’t bother doing it, but will still continue to blame the hardware or developers when they get simulator sickness. Looking at some recent Reddit posts, many VR new-comers seem confused by their inability to find their illusive “VR legs”. Thinking they must be uniquely broken in some way, or even that there’s something medically wrong with them! (many resorting to anti-emetics etc) De-sensitization to bad VR through “immersion therapy” is not a solution. I admit that “curing” motion sickness was probably over-stating it a bit, many have identified stick-yaw as one of the primary factors, but there more to it than that.

    With current tracking limitations, and the ridiculous control-schemes implemented in many demos, the “lizard-brain” not only faces stick-yaw “poisoning” but also disembodiment, decapitation, and worse – yet people are surprised that it gets upset. Reduced latency, better tracking & optics will all help massively, but that’s largely out of our hands. We need to encourage the use of natural fully-decoupled control schemes – that respect the vestibular / proprioception centres of the brain – this is equally important and something that the Roto could play a large part in.

    Whilst standing VR fixes many problems at a stroke, it introduces many more. For gamers that refuse to stand up (for various reasons) the Roto VR can closely approximate many elements of a standing VR experience whilst you are seated (de-coupled torso tracking, foot controls etc) this provides one of the most comfortable seated VR experiences currently possible. It’s obviously great for racing / flight-sims etc, but more importantly it can be a “best of both worlds” option for gamers wanting to mix elements of traditional FPS control schemes and the more comfortable / intuitive alternatives that new tracking devices will allow standing VR users to enjoy.

    Re:PS – Yes, with no viable wireless solutions in sight (trust me – I’ve looked! … as have Oculus, Valve, DARPA etc), we are going to remain wired quite for some time, potentially for several HMD generations. A slip-ring system that works with CV1 / Vive will be a pre-requisite for any good cable management design – a massive help for both seated and standing users – if only someone had a working prototype…. ; )