Disney just reinvented the VR treadmill, and it looks amazing

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

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.

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.

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