During this semester, I had the chance to move my first steps into the Virtual Reality world thanks to CS491 lectures but even from a practical perspective by walking wearing the HTC VIVE.
This gave me the chance to experience amazing sensations but also to deal with Virtual Reality limitations and drawbacks, most of them difficult to imagine for those not in the trade.
Well, something that is really annoying about immersive VR platform like HTC VIVE is that it doesn't matter in which virtual environment you are, you are still moving in a real place so you can walk just as much as your room allows to. This is something that you clearly figure out when you hurt your room's wall while walking in your awesome virtual world.
What can we do to deal with this issue?
This probably is the question that moved the 3dRudder founders and that's why I want to share with you their amazing ideas.
3dRudder is a French company that had the smart idea to develop a piece of hardware to address exactly the problem we talked about.
Their solution consist in a round board where the user can easily lay his/her feet being comfortably seated. The board has an USB cable to connect it to all the most recent computers.
After a quick set up the device is ready, the user can now use it to send inputs with his/her feet.
Even if we will consider this piece of hardware mostly in the VR ambit, something that is worth saying is that it is not just a VR platform, it is a multi-use foot controller.
In fact, it can be turned into a mouse or it can be used in place of the keyboard moving buttons, for example to play whatever game you want, even those that are not VR games.
This really innovative piece of hardware is sold with a price that is around 99$.
However, we want to focus on Virtual Reality: Get your feet into the game!
3dRudder Foot controller
|Computer||PC – Desktop, Laptop|
|Power||USB (2 meter cable)|
|Commands||Forward/backward – Left/right – Rotate left/right – Up/down|
3dRudder Dashboard:The dashboard is the software manager of the 3dRudder hardware controller, it is easily downloadable from 3dRudder website and is all you need to manage, customize and fully exploit all that 3dRudder foot-powered controller can offer to you.
How does it work?:
We understood that 3dRudder allows to move in a Virtual Reality environment using your feet and which are the allowed commands, but how does you achieve the moving tasks in practice?
First of all there are four possible usage modes and a few configurations available:
- Mouse Mode
- Keyboard Mode
- Joystick Mode
- Keyboard + Mouse Mode
- Game configurations
In this configuration, you can use 3dRudder as a real mouse, performing all the actions you usually do with your hands such as shifting the pointer, clicking, right clicking and double clicking with your feet. To shift the mouse you just have to tilt the device down towards the desired direction and to perform clicking you can exploit the foot-controlled buttons already present on the 3dRudder board.
Keyboard mode allows you to bind few keyboard buttons to 3dRudder axis movements, each axis can have two keybindings based on tilting intensity so that you can have up to 8 keybindings.
The joystick mode lets your 3dRudder emulate a foot joystick with up to 4 axes.
This is the only non-customizable configuration so you may want to carefully verify that the keys assigned to 3dRudder match the game-key set up. With Keyboard+Mouse mode you can exploit mouse and keyboard features at the same time for example by binding the WASD moving combination of the keyboard and the mouse buttons.
This generically defines a screen in the 3dRudder dashboard where you can find ready-to-play configurations already set up for you for a lot of games, and it is updated weekly!
Supported VR devices:
- HTC VIVE
- Oculus Rift
- Windows Mixed Reality HMD's
3dRudder is fully compatible with all these devices and it is the perfect piece of hardware to expand your degrees of freedom in VR applications.
In fact, involving your feet for moving around, it gives you the chance to exclusive devote your hand to other actions.
The only thing you need to start using the 3dRudder in your applications is to download the 3dRudder's dashboard and select the games configuration in the homonym tab.
Moreover, all the Virtual Reality games present in the Steam VR store already support 3dRudder's device.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
- Room saver
- useful for disabled people
- Support for VR developers
- Interaction schema not intuitive
- It doesn't stay fixed in place
- In-game cheating
- Motion sickness not solved
- You must be seated
3dRudder is a very interesting piece of hardware, it has been sold for a few years so several geeks have already tried, used and reviewed it.
Going through these experiences shared on internet, by watching videos and thinking about it, we can easily outline which are the advantages and disadvantages of this platform.
First of all, it is worth saying that getting used to 3dRudder device takes time, you have to use it for a while, accumulate a bit of experience in the so-called process of 'getting your VR legs'.
In fact, what you will find out since the first time you use it is that some interactions and movements are not that intuitive.
Particularly, I'm referring to moving up and down, since moving backward/forward and left/right is intuitively done by tilting the board in the desired direction. To move up and down you have to push two different buttons, one with each foot, something that you can easily forget or mistake.
There is even another issue that is related to this feature of moving up and down. Usually, VR applications do not require the user to move up and down, in theory he/she just has to move on the ground plane, breaking the floor or going upstairs somehow while he/she wears the headset is something unexpected.
Moreover, sometimes, virtual environment spaces are designed considering that the user is moving in a real room with a fixed range, 3dRudder technology revolutionises these concepts since using it you can pass through either walls or the floor itself, resulting in game cheating.
This factor, that can be seen either as good or bad since sometimes cheating is fun but for sure it makes games boring, has also an impact on VR motion sickness issue.
In addition, some application may require to the user to jump or to crouch down, it is not clear if this movements are allowed, how and how intuitively they are mapped to feet inputs on the 3dRudder board.
You could believe that, since 3dRudder requires the player to be seated, motion sickness is no longer an issue at all, well this is not completely through.
Of course, dizziness effects on people are leveraged by being seated but I can ensure you that as soon as you start rotating or you approach a wall to pass through it you would feel as bad as if you were standing.
Last but not least, I want to point out something that for a foot-powered controller is very annoying and can seriously affect usability.
What many reviews that I read highlight is that when you are playing, mostly if the game is really addictive, the 3dRudder board does not stay fixed in its place. This is a very grave drawback for a piece of hardware that claims to help the player in getting less tired and more comfortable in playing VR games and running VR applications.
On the other hand, 3dRudder can also guarantee a lot of benefits and can considerably improve your VR experience.
Firstly, it is true that some controls are not that intuitive but others are, moving backward/forward and left/right is very intuitive. Furthermore, we have to say that since feet are the body part that manages the movement, a controller that allows you to move in a VR using them adds something to the experience and for sure makes it more complete.
This aspect has also a huge impact on how the Virtual Reality game is immersive, in fact, having to move actively and rapidly your feet to move into the game, will for sure increase this factor.
For sure, something that contributes to such an immersive sensation is that 3dRudder controller is progressive, meaning that the movement does depend on how much you are tilting the board towards a specific direction, giving you a further measure to the in-game experience.
Leaving for a while in-game aspects, let's consider the impact of 3dRudder in different ambits.
As we already pointed out, the most revolutionary point of this device is that it makes the physical space where you use your VR headset no longer an issue.
3dRudder is Room Saver in the sense that since you are seated and you can freely move in a virtual infinite space, whether you play in a small storage room or in huge empty loft it doesn't change anything, you'll have the same experience.
This gives a fancy solution of a truly annoying problem of VR headset technologies but at the same time gives us something to think about: do we prefer either to be seated and pretend to move everywhere or to stand up and actually walk and potentially run wherever we want within some space boundaries?
The answer is: it depends. Someone could find more immersive the former, someone else the latter, it is something very changing based on the player, the game/application that he/she is running and other factor such as fatigue.
However, unfortunately not everyone can choose, in fact, people with disabilities can be very limited in having an immersive VR experience. In this scenario, it is clear how a piece of hardware like 3dRudder controller can be useful and innovative in giving a chance even to people that couldn't have one.
Finally, 3dRudder company is geeks friendly, in fact, they provide a developer kit to easily integrate 3dRudder foot-powered controller to make it supported from every new application.
The 2nd generation foot-powered controller.
This innovative piece of hardware has been recently presented at CES 2018 and it represents the second generation of 3dRudder foot-powered controllers, it brings a couple of improvements but it still have some limits already seen in its old brother.
This product is still not available in commerce but it will be soon with a price that will be around 139$.
Let's have a closer look to its features!
New design to better suit games purposes
Since, as we said, rapid movements can cause your feet to move away from the correct position, this second version of board has feet straps made with gentle shape and flexible material to keep your feet comfortably in place.
Active DeadZone feature
The Active DeadZone "takes the intensity of your movement into account and provides a higher level of control. For example, when sitting still, the 3dRudder can still register small movements. With the Active Dead Zone, users will not need to adjust the sensitivity to counter any jittery movements as the ADZ compensates for you".
- New software suite
- Led lights to check the device status
- position guides to help you place your feet in the best way
Where to go next?
Previously we highlighted advantages and disadvantages of the first generation on 3dRudder controller, now we have just seen what are the improvements introduced with the second generation 'Blackhawk', hence what can be possible improvements ?
Of course, BlackHawk fixed some issue particularly for what concerns the feet comfort and usability, improving this side of the experience, but, also considering amazon's reviews, there is a lot of stuff to do to get to make the 3dRudder foot controller a must in the VR ambit.
However, there are still urgent improvements to be done such as fixing the fact that the board shifts while you are using it, for example by re-thinking its bottom design to avoid this annoying issue.
Also, even if this is very subjective, many users complained about how less intuitive is using the 3dRudder controller, this is something that should be handled and improved.
Thinking about moving up and down, is this something really useful? It depends, but if 3dRudder wants to allow it, a solution better than the easiest one of pushing some foot buttons has to be found.
For example, a more intuitive move can be take a foot of the board and keep it above the controller to move up and put it on the floor to move down.
Following this idea the jump can be mapped to the movement of taking both feet off the board and keeping them above it for a while and the crunch down can be done in the same way but keeping the feet on the board sides.
On the other hand, there are inherent limits of 3dRudder foot controller for which there are few things that we can do.
I'm thinking about the fact that you must be seated, even if producing a stand-up version of the board shouldn't be that difficult, it may be less safe and comfortable.
Furthermore, as we said in the advantages and disadvantages section, even if 3dRudder board involves your feet for moving in VR environments, it doesn't involve them in a very natural way, in fact, you'll never walk that is what feet are made for.
If the user really cares about this aspect, what he/she may want to do is switching to a different technology. For instance, an alternative can be the 'Freedom Locomotion System', a piece of hardware that allows you to point towards a direction with the hand controller and physically in-place walk while you wear a special kind of VR shoes to move in that direction.
This seems to be another interesting and innovative piece of hardware even if it involves also your hands, limiting the faculty to use them exclusively for different tasks.
As always, there is a trade off, you just have to figure out what it is more relevant to you and then decide how do you want to get your feet into the game!