Google's New Patent for Wheeled, Omnidirectional Shoes May Replace VR Treadmills

Omnidirectional VR treadmills are so 2015. Apart from being as big as a piece of home gym equipment and suspiciously similar in design to a baby bouncer, they don’t really make you feel like you’re moving freely in virtual space. Now, however, Google may be working on a potential solution: omnidirectional VR shoes.

A recent patent submitted by Google shows a set of sneaker-like shoes equipped with wheels, treads, or advanced (and rather trippy-looking) mecanum wheels on the soles. The shoes are designed to counteract the movement of a person’s foot as they take steps, allow them to keep a user from bumping into their walls and potentially re-centering them in their room.

The working name of this design is “Augmented Reality and/or Virtual Reality Footwear,” and here’s how the official patent describes them:

“A physical position of motorized footwear in a physical environment may be tracked, and movement of the footwear may be translated into corresponding movement in a virtual environment. When a distance between the motorized footwear and a boundary of an operational zone…is less than or equal to a threshold distance, a motor of the motorized shoe may be actuated…This may allow the user to walk seemingly endlessly in the virtual environment, while remaining within a defined physical space…”

via GIPHY

The patent then goes on to show how the shoes’ “operational zone” would be set and how the locomotion of a person’s gait would be managed. It also shows some of the mechanical aspects of the shoes, including how the wheels or treads might be positioned on the sole.

One of the more concerning questions about the design is how Google plans on keeping people from tripping or slipping while wearing the shoes, which are literally going to be moving under a user’s feet. Maybe we need a baby bouncer-style harness after all…