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Step Inside the “Virtualizer” – the Next Level of Immersive Gaming

For decades, playing videogames was “just a bit of fun.” Plug in a game, grab your controller, and bash away to your heart’s content. Or until your hands hurt and your eyes glaze over, zombie-style.

All in 2-D, of course. Just you and the screen.

But over the past few years, we’ve seen several new innovations that significantly upgrade the gaming experience.

For example, the likes of Nintendo (NTDOY) and Microsoft (MSFT) have boosted the level of interaction between the user and the game, with their Wii and Kinect consoles, respectively.

But today, we’re into the realm of a full-on, all-immersive gaming experience…

Take a Spin in the Virtualizer

Chief among the new wave of these immersive experiences is the Oculus Rift virtual reality system, currently in development. Indeed, Oculus showed off its new “Crystal Cove” design at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

And a team at the University of Vienna aims to revolutionize the gaming experience by harnessing the technology within the Rift and taking it to the next level.

It’s called the “Virtualizer.”

As the name suggests, the virtual reality system transports users to a given environment and allows them to walk or run through it.

But here’s a key point…

While some virtual reality devices can cause disorientation or motion sickness, the Virtualizer is different.

It consists of a small, circular metal frame, with belts linked to vertical columns and a disc-shaped, low-friction floor plate. This plate means users can run, walk, jump, or squat without feeling any ill effects.

Once the user puts on the Oculus Rift headset and begins gameplay, motion sensors track movement and send the signals to the computer.

As Virtualizer co-inventor, Tuncay Cakmak, explains, “The PC thinks the Virtualizer is like a keyboard, or a gamepad – like a controller. So you can use the Virtualizer with any game that exists that you play with a keyboard or gamepad. That’s why we don’t need special software for the Virtualizer. It’s like learning a new controller, and you totally forget you are in the device, so the brain decouples from reality and thinks ‘where I am in the virtual world is real.’”

But the beauty of this system is that it’s not just about gaming…

Wanna Get Away? You Can…

Due to the virtual reality aspect of the Virtualizer, the technology has wide-ranging applications.

The fact that a user can be transported to any world means “you can do virtual sightseeing and explore wonderful new worlds,” according to co-creator, Dr. Hannes Kaufmann.

More importantly, it could also be used to aid people in their rehabilitation from a serious injury, or illness. Kaufman says, “You can train walking again for people after an accident, or for stroke patients. It’s a motivating way of walking through imaginative worlds.”

While currently a prototype, Kaufmann and Cakmak aim to bring the Virtualizer to market later this year.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

View More By Martin Denholm