A group of combat troops are training in a combat vehicle simulator. On command they open a door and step out into a virtual environment where they can move around freely and complete various missions. Many armies around the world would like a simulator that enables this type of training. But for the simulation to work, soldiers must move over a surface that translates their movements in the physical space to movements in the virtual world. Until now, treadmills able to do that have been tremendously expensive and large.
The Omnidirectional Floor
Now there is a relatively inexpensive and, in terms of size, manageable solution to the problem described above. The solution is called the Omnidirectional Floor and was developed by Daniel Johansson during his PhD studies at University of Skövde, University of Örebro and the company MSE Weibull.
Daniel came up with the solution by refining the features necessary in a floor of this kind.
– I arrived at the conclusion that the floor really only needed to comply with two basic criteria: It must allow a person to move in all directions and over time bring the person back to the centre. These are the exact two requirements that the Omnidirectional Floor meets, he says.
The floor consists of 16 triangles made of metal rollers which together form a circle. A motor-driven belt under the triangles rotates the metal rollers. A person standing still on the floor will therefore be transported back towards the centre of the floor. If the person would instead run on the floor, the speed of the rollers will pick up the further from the centre of the floor the person gets.
– With the floor comes a tracking system that monitors where on the surface a person is and controls the speed of the rollers, says Daniel Johansson.
An acclaimed floor
Daniel Johansson’s floor has already received international attention. The Gadget Show on British Channel 5 used the floor when they wanted to build the ultimate simulator for the computer game Battlefield 3. A trailer for the programme on YouTube has today been viewed over 3 million times.
It is the size and the cost-effectiveness that makes Daniel Johansson’s invention unique. There are other technical solutions that can perform roughly in the same way as the Omnidirectional Floor. The most advanced solution can be found at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
– That floor is the size of a gymnasium and costs millions of euros, says Daniel Johansson.
Daniel Johansson’s PhD thesis resulted in a tangible, commercially available product. The floor, tracking system and computer for control all come to 110 000 euros. Even if the floor was originally developed to train military personnel, there are also potential clients from other sectors that have shown interest in the product.
– When our demonstrator is finished, people from Disney are coming here to test it. They want to explore if the floor could be used in their theme parks. Moreover, companies working with rehabilitation have contacted us, and are interested, concludes Daniel Johansson.
Text: Ulf Nylén
Translation: Charlotta Hambre-Knight
Photo: Jennie Varland and MSE Weibull