The dream of any sci-fi fan is a functioning holodeck. Just step into a humble room and be transported into another world, time period (probably in 1930's Chicago, if you're one particularly popular sci-fi TV show), get up to hijinks, and come crashing back into reality when it all goes dreadfully wrong. Well, sci-fi fans, you're in luck because Disney just showed off a floor that looks incredible for limitless traversal in a small space.
In a video homage to Disney Research Fellow and Imagineer Lanny Smoot, who is set to join the prestigious ranks of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the inventor showed off the incredible floor. It's called HoloTile, and it's one of the sleekest VR flooring solutions I've seen.
"It will automatically do whatever it needs to have me stay on the floor," Smoot says.
"Multiple people can be on it and all walking independently. They can walk in virtual reality and so many other things."
Disney actually shows a clip of multiple users walking on the device at the same time. It's pretty impressive, if a little dangerous if you're not careful. Though it's not often you see a VR walking solution that works for two or more people at the same time without separate devices.
"Imagine a number of people being in a room, being able to be somewhere else collaboratively and moving around, doing sightseeing. Imagine theatrical stages that might have these embedded in them so that dancers can do amazing moves. Not me, but really good dancers."
VR is one potential use for the HoloTile, though how big the system actually is might play a big role in whether we ever see anything like it in home systems. Not to get ahead of myself, it looks pretty sleek, with some small tiles protruding from the floor, but that wider stage is likely covering a whole lot of extra tech under the surface.
It's how Disney might roll this out that could be exciting. Surely it'll end up in some of its parks, or part of its own shows, providing it's not a complete liability. No one in the clips was exactly sprinting around, but it's clearly not quite a finished product yet.
As Smoot says, "there are just so many applications for this type of technology and we don't know yet where it will be used."
Disney also showed someone moving a chair and a box around with the omnidirectional floor, seemingly by moving their hand… plenty of scope for exciting uses with that sort of technology, and the fact this floor appears to do so much in one single solution is exciting.
As for Smoot, he has enjoyed a lengthy career so far inventing things and gizmos for Disney, Bell Labs, and others. Looks like an induction in the National Inventors Hall of Fame well deserved.