Microsoft is Developing a Virtual Reality Mat
The idea of using a floor mat to play video games has been around since the 1980's. At the time, gaming was a way lot simpler than that which we have today. The first popular gaming floor mat marketed for home use was the Power Pad (aka Family Trainer) which was released by Bandai in 1986 for the Nintendo Family Computer home gaming console system (yes, the little box that plugs to your TV with it's odd looking rectangular controllers and gaming cartridges). Regardless, it was quite a blast during the day specially when it was repackaged for the NES the succeeding years.
The power pad was plugged into the Nintendo controller port and used pressure sensitive buttons in the pad which was either stepped-on or pressed with the palm of one's hand to control the game that used it. It was innovative in a way that the user had to exert physical movement to interact with the game. The same control principles where then used when the Dance Dance games became popular in the 1990's where the Sony PlayStation and the Dance Dance floor pads made their mark.
Actually, if one will think about it, the idea of actual physical exertion in video and computer games have been used and abused throughout the years. Today, in the age of Iron Man 2020 and Virtual Reality gaming, the old gaming floor mat looks to be making a comeback once again, in a big way.
VR gaming usually uses physical motion to fulfill the interface requirements of the game while placing the gamer in an alternate reality that practically shields out the current and real one. This is currently visual and auditory but not physical. The player (if precautions and space requirements are not taken into account) may bump around and cause injury to self. To this, VR equipment manufacturers and developers have devised ways like using tracking sensors and area/play space saving configurations to keep the player out of harms way.
Microsoft on the other hand has recently filed for a U.S. Patent for a VR floor mat which could possibly be used with several different computing devices from PC's, mobile devices to the XBox gaming consoles in conjunction with a VR headset and it's accompanying controllers. At this point, not enough information is available whether it is already currently in development or still in the planning stage. However, a few images have already been released on-line regarding the project.
The VR mat will contain both haptic feedback and pressure tracking sensors which when used in conjunction with a VR HMD running an app or game will track the users physical positional location and provide vibratory feedback to the users feet as well. This will insure that the gamer/user will not stray beyond the mat which then becomes the VR game space. The mat will probably interact with several tracking devices as well like on-board cameras on the HMD and even the XBox Kinect. At this point, your guess is as good as mine.
Regardless, an area/game space control and monitoring solution such as this may prove to be a very useful if not practical addition to the number of ways to protect the out-of-this-world VR gamer or user from harming one's self. Also, the chances of repeated re-configuration would be minimal as the space is already set (the mat) unlike being saved in the device memory with the possibility of being erased or in need of update, ending up to be re-configured once again.
Also, the vibration felt by one's feet during game play will no doubt add to the realism of the simulated events being portrayed in the virtual world. Current industry speculations predict that the mat will be developed to be specifically used with the ongoing XBox 'Project Scarlet' development which Microsoft plans to use as a competitive leverage to the dominance of the PSVR in the gaming console market. Then again, it looks like Microsoft plans to use the technology with other devices as well.
Despite still being in the planning stage, the idea seems to be a good and valid one. The size of the mat however should be taken though into careful consideration as not everyone who uses VR and plays games will have the recommended space to work or play with. Other factors too will have to be taken into account but Microsoft being Microsoft is already well aware of these.
As for us the gaming crowd, let's just keep up with the patient waiting and hope we can get the chance to play around with a product like this in the time to come.