Skip to main content

Disney just reinvented the VR treadmill, and it looks amazing

The feet of someone walking on Disney's Holotile technology.
Disney

Disney casually broke the news of an exciting-sounding breakthrough to reinvent movement in VR. The HoloTile is an omnidirectional, multiplayer treadmill floor that could solve a huge problem with VR gaming and the metaverse: connecting body movement to the virtual world.

Solutions to this problem so far have been clunky, either opting for a tethered treadmill or going free-roam in large rooms, where running into other players or walls is a problem.

Disney’s solution is unique, appearing to be small balls that rotate to match your foot movement. There’s no need for a tether, and more than one person can use the expandable HoloTile VR treadmill. It seems like a perfect solution, though it’s still a work in progress.

In a video demonstration, you can see the people taking small steps, and the HoloTile keeps rolling for a moment after they stop walking. The HoloTile floor can also move objects like a conveyor belt but in any direction. In the video, you’ll see someone waving their hand to control a box as if by magic.

‘HoloTile’ floor for omnidirectional VR experiencespic.twitter.com/xbALAZsUtE

— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) January 22, 2024

Beyond creating the feeling of movement without actually moving, it also helps deal with real-world objects. The best VR headsets let you walk around in your physical room while your avatar matches that movement in the virtual space you’re seeing. That works great until you bump into a table, a wall, or knock over a lamp.

There are ways of alerting gamers within the headset of a virtual boundary. Mixed reality lets you see your surroundings. That’s one of the most intriguing aspects of Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest 3, but large graphic overlays can still obscure portions of your room and break the immersion of the game.

Disney Imagineer Makes History | Disney Parks

Holotile is being developed by Lanny Smoot, the Disney Research Fellow, and Imagineer behind special effects used in the Haunted Mansion and Star Wars lightsabers.

Disney announced Smoot is being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, becoming the second Disney Imagineer to receive this honor, along with Disney founder Walt Disney, who was honored posthumously for the multiplane camera.

Editors' Recommendations

Alan Truly
Computing Writer
Alan is a Computing Writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. A tech-enthusiast since his youth, Alan stays current on what is…
I streamlined my PC VR setup, and now I use it more than ever
HTC Vive Pro review

One of the biggest hurdles of using VR regularly is the setup time. Every time I wanted to use my VR headset, I would have to go through some infuriating setup steps, which included clearing playing space in my office, covering the glass cabinet to avoid Lighthouse tracker reflections, starting up SteamVR, and running any necessary updates for the game I wanted to play. Of course, when I was finished, I had to put it all away again. It became a chore, and resulted in me diving into the virtual worlds of SteamVR less than I wanted.

In an effort to change that, I went on a campaign of streamlining my VR setup to make it easier to get into and faster to get out of. The idea was to make virtual reality as easy to use as flopping down in my gaming chair for standard desktop gaming. After a few weeks of upgrades and adjustments, I'm happy to report that I've almost managed it.

Read more
This modular SteamVR controller fixes a major problem with VR controllers
Two versions of ProjectModular SteamVR controllers lay side-by-side.

An ergonomics expert specializing in XR has been working for years to create an entirely new SteamVR controller that is both modular and repairable, in an effort to solve multiple problems with current VR headsets and controllers made by Valve, HTC, and others.

A modular controller would make it possible to upgrade components over time or add accessories at a more affordable price than the cost of a completely separate controller. It's a clever idea to design for upgrades rather than try to fit components around an unforgiving, single-purpose device.

Read more
How this new Quest VR app totally sold me on exercising in virtual reality
Playing a fitness game in VR with the Quest Pro.

Including more variety of movement is important for everyone, but this is particularly critical for people like me, a tech worker that tends to spend a large amount of time behind a computer or fixed in place, interacting with the latest app on my phone.

VR is already good at inviting more movement, particularly when playing fast-action games. Having experienced this with games like Beat Saber and Until You Fall, which involve a large amount of arm movement, I was intrigued by the prospect of exercising with an app specifically designed for fitness, like Supernatural.

Read more