Motorized “treadmill shoes” for enhanced VR gaming experience

Freeaim VR Shoes
The prototype Freeaim VR Shoes feature two motorized, pivoting four-wheeled modules per shoe. Images courtesy Freeaim

In the rapidly evolving landscape of virtual reality (VR) gaming, a novel innovation promises to transform the way gamers navigate virtual worlds. Developed by the UK/US startup Freeaim, these “treadmill shoes” are set to address the challenges of simulating real-world walking movements in VR environments. Designed as motorized roller skates, these shoes offer an intuitive and compact solution for VR enthusiasts.

Walking in VR has always been a complex task to replicate accurately. While head and arm movements can be easily tracked and mirrored in virtual spaces, simulating walking poses a unique challenge. Traditional VR setups require users to physically traverse large distances, which isn’t feasible in confined real-world spaces. This is where Freeaim’s treadmill shoes come into play, offering a practical alternative.

The conventional approach to this problem has involved omnidirectional treadmills. These devices typically consist of slippery, bowl-shaped platforms that keep users centered by allowing their feet to slide towards the middle as they walk in any direction. However, many users report that this setup feels unnatural, akin to skating or awkwardly pushing against the inside of a dish. Moreover, omnidirectional treadmills are bulky, costly, and often necessitate additional support structures such as harnesses or railings.

Freeaim’s innovative VR shoes provide a markedly different experience. Resembling electric roller skates, these shoes require a minimal setup—a hard floor area of just 2 by 2 meters (6.6 feet). As the user steps forward, omnidirectional wheel modules on the opposite shoe move the other leg backward, preventing forward motion across the floor. This mechanism ensures that users remain in a confined space while experiencing the sensation of walking in a virtual environment. Additionally, if a user drifts too close to the edge of the designated walking area, the shoes gently steer them back to the center.

Freeaim VR Shoes Consumer Version Render
A rendering of the upcoming consumer model of Freeaim VR Shoes.

The current version of Freeaim VR shoes supports a range of movements, including walking, jogging, turning on the spot, and taking lateral steps. Future iterations are expected to include features such as backward walking and indefinite sidestepping. This will be achieved by allowing the wheel modules to pivot, enabling side movements without altering the shoes’ overall orientation.

Compatibility is another significant advantage of Freeaim VR shoes. They are designed to work with any VR headset that supports SteamVR and are compatible with most PC-based VR games featuring walkable environments. This broad compatibility ensures that users can integrate the shoes seamlessly into their existing VR setups.

Freeaim VR Shoes Battery
Each shoe’s swappable battery lasts 1.5 to 2 hours per charge, depending on factors such as user weight.

Thanks to recent funding, Freeaim has made a developer version of the shoes available to corporate clients at a price of $4,999 per pair. This version aims to gather feedback and refine the product before its consumer release. According to Freeaim co-founder Alex Evans, a consumer model is expected to launch next year at a more accessible price of approximately $1,000. The company, founded in 2021 by Evans and CEO Ashley Foxcroft, continues to innovate in the VR space, promising to bring more immersive and natural movement experiences to gamers worldwide.

In summary, Freeaim’s treadmill shoes represent a significant advancement in VR technology. By addressing the limitations of traditional omnidirectional treadmills, these shoes offer a compact, intuitive, and affordable solution for virtual walking. As the technology progresses, it holds the potential to enhance the immersive quality of VR gaming, making virtual worlds more accessible and enjoyable for users.

Watch the shoes in action in the video below.

Source: Freeaim