Motorized, 3D Printed Shoes Could Make Virtual Reality Truly Immersive

Some prefer reading, others would rather binge-watch the latest Netflix show, and then there are the gamers. We often see 3D printing used in the gaming world, with classic board games, newer tabletop games, roleplaying games, and even virtual reality (VR) games. I’d say that VR is already a pretty immersive experience in its own right, but there are always people trying to take this technology to the next level, through grabbing and even feeling things in the VR environment, wearing backpacks for a free-roaming virtual experience, and moving with VR treadmills and shoes. Unfortunately, many reasons abound as to why none of these options seem to offer full immersion, such as large, pricey headsets and non-responsive haptic technology.

Alexander Evans, a maker and software engineer, could have the answer to completely immersive VR with his motorized shoes that feature mostly 3D printed parts, made on his Prusa systems. The shoes allow users to move omnidirectionally—each one has a track of horizontally facing wheels, and another track of vertically facing wheels. Each battery-powered shoe also features an attached motor, to help control movement.

Leg binding

“I’m making motorized shoes to be used with virtual reality games. The shoes keep you in the same spot as you walk, like a treadmill. You can walk infinitely in the game while staying in the same spot in the real world. The shoes are omni-directional so you can turn, strafe, and walk in any direction,” Evans wrote in his blog.

When wearing the heavy shoes, users can glide in multiple directions, and don’t even have to lift their feet off the ground. But, in order to wear them to play VR games, Evans says you also need to wear a safety harness that’s mounted to the ceiling or a strong, stable structure; this way, you don’t have to worry about rolling into a wall or, God forbid, out of a window.

First test with sideways motion

“These are basically roller skates that you wear with your eyes covered,” Evans commented on his Reddit post about the shoes. “If there is no safety structure in place, the user will fall and get hurt.”

They’re not so much shoes as they are motorized, wheeled platforms onto which you can strap your shoe-wearing feet. It would probably be pretty uncomfortable to put your bare feet on top of all that metal.

The way the design works is really interesting. Check out the image below:

The darker rectangle denotes a foot that is on the motorized platform, while the lighter rectangle signifies that the user is bringing the shoe forward or to the side with their foot. When the right foot is moved, a sensor in the platform detects an acceleration in the Y direction, which then triggers the motor on the left platform to turn on. The second shoe will begin moving backward at the same speed the first is moving forward.

“The speed to use can be calculated by using the accelerometer data (integrating to get the velocity) or by using motor encoders,” Evans wrote. “…When the user takes a step forward with his right foot, the left foot is moved at the same speed in the opposite direction.”

In terms of braking, when the user is standing still, both feet on the platform, the motors should resist any motion until one of the shoes is moved again. Check out the blog post if you want the nitty gritty details of the algorithms Evans is using for these shoes.

Right now, an Android app manually controls the shoes, but Evans is currently tweaking the software so movement can be automated and integrated within VR games. In the future, he hopes to add support for crouching and jogging to his design, though doesn’t believe that the shoes will be able to handle full-speed sprinting.

Evans doesn’t plan on licensing or patenting his shoes, though he wouldn’t mind selling them in the future once he’s perfected the design. In fact, he is a fan of the open source movement, and has added all the 3D printing files for the shoes onto GitHub, so others can download them and try to make their own pair of motorized shoes for immersive VR play.

“I plan on continuing to develop an open-source prototype while I build a YouTube channel. Once I have a sellable version, I plan on using the version for a couple months to see how well they last,” he explained on his blog. “I need to look into any safety regulations I need to meet, and get product liability insurance. I can produce a small batch of DIY kits and sell them. If they sell well, I can get another 3D printer or two and continue producing small batches and continue to build a 3D printer farm.”

(Source: Gizmodo)

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Stratodyne: New Space Company Wants to 3D Print Stratospheric Satellites and CubeSats

With a growing directory of space companies gaining momentum, research and development in rocket science, aerospace engineering, and space travel are at an all-time high. After a continuous decrease in orbital launches since the early 1990s, companies began sending payloads into orbit in the mid-2000s, and whether successful or not (although usually successful), the sharp string of experimental technology for spacecraft, rockets, and space exploration vehicles has quickly revved up our faith in the space industry. Rocket launches have been streaming online more often than ever before and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is leveling the playing field to allow for students and space researchers everywhere to sent forth their creations into orbit.
With over 100 startup space companies competing in the vast commercialization of space, many college students are beginning to see an opportunity in the field. Such is the case with Stratodyne, a startup working on applying additive manufacturing technology towards spaceflight and stratospheric science, which involves having balloon-borne stratospheric satellites at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere for mission lengths of days, weeks, and even months at a time.
Founded in January of this year by 20-year old Edward Ge, a finance major from the University of Missouri, along with a few of his High School and college friends, the startup company is focused around applying advances in 3D printing technology to lower costs for space and high altitude research.

The completed vehicle with the CubeSat frame that houses the payload (Image: Stratodyne) spoke to the young entrepreneur, who described his company as “originally envisioned as a manufacturer of CubeSat frames and a provider of testing services in near-space conditions due to the lack of affordable parts and services in the CubeSat industry.” However, along with fellow founders, he decided to pursue a multi-role route with their ideas, seeking to create a 3D printed modular and remotely controlled airship that could serve as a satellite, testbed, and even a launch platform for small rockets into space.
“As part of our development towards a 3D printed stratospheric satellite and 3D printing CubeSats, we recently launched a small prototype consisting of a CubeSat, a truss, and an engine frame with twin solar-powered drone motors to an altitude of 27 kilometers. All the components were 3D printed out of common thermoplastic polymers ABS and ASA, with the exception of the solar-powered motor and onboard electronics and parachute,” said Ge. “The flight lasted a total of six hours, with our experimental motor nearly doubling the flight time of the balloon. We intend to perform another launch in April using a prototype altitude control system with the aim of having the stratospheric satellite remain aloft for 24 hours straight.”
To deal with all their 3D printing needs, Ge and fellow founders currently have multiple machines at their disposal. The University of Missouri has loaned them a Stratasys FDM machine 400mc which uses polycarbonate to manufacture parts for sounding rockets and even satellites, multiple Prusa open-source 3D printers, and a custom-built CNC printer in the works.

Edward Ge next to one of the 3D printing machines, a Stratasys FDM, that Stratodyne is using to create their CubeSats (Image: Stratodyne)

Ge, who acts as both CFO and CEO of the company, indicated that “these machines give us a massive range of materials to work with but at the moment we primarily use parts made from Polycarbonate, thermoplastic polymers ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and ASA (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), and are even experimenting with Nylon powder and laser printing.”

In the early months of the company, they experimented with 3D printed rockets before deciding that it just wasn’t feasible to develop a true launch system with the resources and budget at hand. At the time, the plan was to crowdfund the development of a 3D printed sounding rocket comparable to the ones Black Brant used by NASA or rockets from Up Aerospace for an estimated program cost of $40,000. Ge does not exclude working with rockets in the future, he considers that there is still an experimental 3D printed composite rocket motor on the drawing board, but the majority of the work has pivoted towards stratospheric satellites since it will take a lower cost to commercialize.

“We plan on launching a crowdfunding campaign soon, once our weather balloon altitude control valve goes past the prototype stage which should be around April. During the summer months of June and July, the plan is to begin pitching to venture capital companies in the Midwest or go back to our plan of crowdfunding development with tangible prototypes and successful flights under our belt,” explained Ge. “However, we know that crowdfunding is fickle, and would only use it to generate a surplus for us to pursue stretch goals such as upscaling the stratospheric satellites or resuming development of a high altitude launch vehicle.  On the technical side, our plan is to have regular flights every two to three weeks on weather balloons to flesh out the altitude control system and engine work.”

Stratodyne plans to go commercial by mid-2021, but for now, the majority of their planning is on an R&D phase. Ge expects that this may change depending on how fast their pace is and how much venture capital funding they get.

The completed vehicle during its ascent (Image: Stratodyne)

“The ultimate goal of Stratodyne is to make space something that is accessible to, not just big corporations or governments, but to your average High School student or the typical guy you’d find on the street. It might sound like a cliché – and it is since every startup says that – but it’s something that needs to happen if we are ever going to be a truly spacefaring species and that’s one goal we can all believe in,” concluded Ge.
Although they are still working on an official webpage, Stratodyne’s news can be found at their Instagram account: @stratodynecorp. The young business partners are proving that their generation is ready to take risks to create what they expect is an undeniable force on the horizon, in this case, the space horizon. Although it is a new company, born only two months ago, the team shows great determination and vision, and are moving very fast, in part thanks to 3D printing providing the necessary tools and autonomy to develop whatever they need, to make their dream a reality.

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