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Step it up: These VR robo-boots are made for walking, without actually going anywhere

By Benjamin Bullard
Ekto One VR boots

In the future, strapping up for a VR session may mean more than putting a piece of gear on your head. Your feet could be getting in on the virtual action too if these new robo-shoes from a startup company find legs with gamers, virtual trainers, people impatient for Ready Player One to be real, or anyone else who seeks the sensation of moving while remaining in place.

Think of it as a smart, VR-connected treadmill ... or maybe the kind of rollerblades that let you feel the rush without actually going anywhere. Either way, these robotic boots, which currently exist as prototypes from Pennsylvania-based tech company Ekto VR, do more than just moonwalk in the same spot — they actually connect with the content you see on your headset and keep pace with the action.

Ekto describes its Ekto One boots as a “robotic VR movement solution” aimed at both gamers and corporate training types, who often need to simulate on-the-ground environments that allow newbies to make otherwise costly mistakes while finding their footing. Supported by carbon fiber construction and designed to fit over the kicks you walked in with (no need to take off your shoes), they can let you tread through industrial spaces or VR worlds like Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx while making sure you don’t actually crash into the furniture while you’re hoofing it toward City 17.

Here’s a recent video of the boots in action during a session with Half-Life: Alyx, complete with a plan-view map that shows all the ground Alyx Vance would actually be covering if she weren’t strapped to a set of stay-in-place footwear:

Ekto founder Brad Factor says the Ekto Ones are suited for both “casual and professional use cases — most notably, industrial training,” and that they help virtual reality take an additional immersive step “to recreate what would normally be dangerous, impossible, and expensive training scenarios.” Come to think of it, that last part sounds a lot like what game developers do ... only for fun.

Judging from the video, it looks as if there’s a lot going on under the virtual hood to ensure that the Ekto Ones keep you from accidentally veering away from your target starting point. That leaves the wearer free to forget their IRL spatial surroundings and focus instead on what they see on their VR screen. For the queasy, the company claims that “patent-pending technologies eliminate motion sickness” and other VR-related hurdles, and that they do just fine as regular footwear during moments of brief downtime — you know, all those breaks and pauses when you just need to stand still without feeling like you’re actually on wheels.

Unveiled in September, the Ekto Ones are still in the prototype stage as the company makes its case to launch-day customers, many of whom are likely to hail from the industrial side of the VR world. There’s no word on when that’ll be, nor on pricing (though these might give a vintage pair of Jordans a run for their money). We’ll keep marching in place while watching for word on when these cool VR kicks will hit the pavement.