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This company's solution to VR locomotion: huge robot shoes

Ekto VR Boots
(Image credit: EKTO VR)

Since the inception of VR, one of the biggest technical challenges to overcome has been locomotion. For some VR users, the sensation of moving within VR while their bodies remains stationary in the real world can lead to motion sickness. That's why nearly all games give you a teleportation option, so you can "blink" to spots within the game without having to move through the virtual space.

But there's another locomotion issue. When you move around in the physical space you've set up for VR, like your living room or office, you can sometimes accidentally step out of bounds and walk face-first into a wall or a piece of furniture and hurt yourself. (Not to mention the damage you can do to the wall, furniture, window, door, spectator, pet, or the VR gear you're careening around in.) And even if you pay attention to the boundary warnings and don't crash into stuff, I personally find myself having to constantly move myself back into the center of my VR area because I've wandered out of bounds.

Ekto VR is attempting to solve both of those problems simultaneously, and their method can be summed up with these two excellent words: robotic boots.

Ekto's VR boots (called Ecto One) let you physically walk to propel yourself through VR, but the really neat thing is that when you're taking those physical steps wearing the robo-boots, you won't physically move through the room you're in. The boots, using what I consider to be a form of robot magic, let you walk in place.

It may be easier to see it than read about it, so below you can check out someone playing Half-Life: Alyx in VR with the big robot boots strapped to their feet. You can see they are taking steps in real life that propel them through the space in VR, but they're actually moving very little when it comes to physical distance:

It's pretty neat to watch. When you lift one foot to step forward, the boot rolls your planted foot backward roughly the same amount. It's like walking on a treadmill, or doing the moonwalk, but in robot boots. The player is taking steps that move them through the game, but they don't move much in real life, which would mean no walking into walls or outside of the VR area—and hopefully less motion sickness because they're taking 'steps' while moving through VR.

I do feel like there are some pretty big downsides, though, namely that not only do you have a bunch of VR gear strapped to your head but also to your feet, making VR even more ungainly than it already was.

Also, you can see it's a very slow and careful walk, but there are plenty of times in Half-Life: Alyx (and many, many VR games) where your natural reaction wouldn't be to take a bunch of big, slow steps. If you're startled or surprised, or need to move quickly in combat, or need to actually crouch, kneel, or even crawl around on the floor, I think that would be very difficult to do with giant robo-boots strapped to your human feet. The boots look like they also make you considerably taller, which could be another source of disorientation and make it hard to judge where the floor is (the real floor, if not the virtual floor).

And if you lose your balance, I imagine it'd be tough to take a quick stutter-step to right yourself with those boots on. If you do fall, with gear on your head, controllers in both hands, and robot boots on your feet... I gotta imagine it won't be a pretty scene.

You can't get your hands (or feet) on Ecto One boots just yet. According to UploadVR, they're about two to four years away from consumer sales.

Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring stories in RPGs so he can make up his own.