Anyone who’s played the video game Call of Duty knows: Navigating in first person view through virtual space requires either a tangle of a mouse and keyboard, or a jumble of buttons on a gamepad. And as virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift enter the equation, juggling these buttons becomes only more complicated.
In an attempt to simplify this problem, the creators of the 3DRudder want to move navigation control to your feet. The device, on Indiegogo now, is sort of like a balance board loaded with a gyroscope. From a sitting position, you tilt your feet forward, back, left, or right to move each direction. And you can rotate your feet to turn your view. It’s more or less a way to walk or fly through virtual space without using your hands, leaving your hands as free as they are when you walk around in real life.
Engadget’s Timothy Seppala tried the Rudder out at CES, and even though he didn’t us it in tandem with an Oculus Rift, he thought it worked pretty well:
My demo started a bit slowly, focused on simple up, down, left and right movement. Then came the ability to spin and zoom in and out. Having each bit of navigation cordoned off felt pretty stilted, but once the leash came off and I had everything at my disposal, getting around the rough mock-up scene with walls, statues and other obstacles felt totally natural. Of course, it took me a few minutes to stop exaggerating the motions I made by tilting too hard one way or the other, but that faded away in short order as well.
At first glance, the 3DRudder may indeed look like a novelty. What normal person would control their computer with their feet? But if you think about it, there’s a lot of precedent when it comes to using our feet in user interface. For decades, drivers have used their feet to precisely control the velocity of their cars, and for even longer, sewers have used their feet to throttle the stitching speed of their sewing machines. And in both cases, people proved capable of multitasking with their four limbs, as the use of feet left people’s hands free for precision work.
Will the 3DRudder catch on? Who knows–a lot of that comes down to the success of other products in the space, as well as pricing, marketing, software support, and implementation. But the core idea is a lot less crazy than it may first seem, especially as we approach a world in which more and more of our work will require navigating space in 3-D, and companies like Facebook want us living on digital streets. We’ll need our hands to be more free to interact with these virtual world.
The 3DRudder is available for pre-order now, starting at $130.