Profile: WizDish ROVR, the ‘computer mouse’ that lets you walk around virtual worlds

We chat to WizDish ROVR's founder Julian Williams about the exciting applications for the treadmill that mirrors your physical movements in virtual reality
31st August 2017

With virtual reality becoming ever present in our day-to-day lives, technology companies and innovators are working hard to make the experiences smoother and more realistic, reducing common complaints of simulation (sim) sickness and increasing the number of exciting applications for its use.

One of these companies is South West-based WizDish ROVR who have created the first remote control that allows its users to physically move around in virtual reality.

“The ROVR can transform VR experiences”

 

Described as the ‘mouse’ for virtual reality, the pod like structure uses special frictionless shoes so that

its users can slide their feet, turn and pivot in real life and have it replicated inside their virtual reality headset environment. You can check out our Editor Jamie Middleton, pictured right, trying it out for himself walking around inside a PAC-MAN game.

WizDish has made appearances at Europe’s biggest virtual reality conference, VR World Congress, Channel 5’s the Gadget Show Live, Techstars and more.

And with growing potential and new applications for WizDish stacking up fast, we caught up with its founder Julian Williams to find out more.

He tells us: “The original idea back in 2001 was to put real people into a computer game and allow them to walk around for a possible TV game show.

“We soon realised that VR would require a way to move and navigate naturally, even if slightly more simply, or the overall illusion of ‘being there’ would be ruined. Another way to think about this is that VR would need an equivalent to the computer mouse.

“We realised that you don’t really think about or even remember walking but you do need to free-stand, turn and move your legs in VR. The ROVR can transform VR experiences.”

Endless applications

Much like many technical innovations, the applications for WizDish ROVR have expanded hugely since the roots of the initial idea’s inspiration, with the ‘VR mouse’ now used as a tool for fitness, military training, education, gaming and more.

“A children’s charity in Australia is using [ROVR] to help disabled kids walk”

 

You can find out some of the ways ROVR is being used in the video below:

 

Julian adds: “We have been delighted to have companies in high hazard industries like nuclear power making repeat orders and use ROVRs for their training needs. We know that VR has been proven to increase attention and efficiency in such situations. The fact that ROVR is far more intuitive and lifelike than a gamepad makes all the difference to their staff.

“A children’s charity in Australia is using theirs to help disabled kids walk. It provides the motivation and the frame ensures safety.

“We are finding that our clients have a very broad range of uses and feel that bodes well for the future of VR.”

The future for ROVR

As well as helping disabled children on the other side of the world, helping people to get fit and assisting in a multitude of risky industries, Julian tells us: “Wells Fargo has been touring the USA for 3 years now with two early ROVRs on a custom-built truck attending football matches and other live events.

“I think the best lesson I’ve learnt is to be very open minded about any ideas or products relating to VR”

 

“They’ve had something like 30,000 people try their experiences and any measure of success – such as client referrals – are far higher than by any other means.

“In terms of gaming one soldier in Norway videos himself playing Doom 3 in VR on his ROVR in full battle dress for anything up to 6.5 hours at a time.”

You can hear him talk about his experiences using the ROVR for gaming in the video below:

 

But all of this success has not come easily and several years on from founding WizDish Julian reflects back, adding: “Apart from Liberty Global and Techstars we’ve avoided pushing for investment because we had a feeling mainstream VR adoption would take this long.

“We’ve done a huge amount of research and development to perfect the ROVR including using an electron microscope at Oxford University and none of that can be rushed. We’ve intelligently managed our burn-rate and used prototype product sales to fund development.

“I think the best lesson I’ve learnt is to be very open minded about any ideas or products relating to VR. There is no such thing as received wisdom in this field. It’s so easy to make assumptions about new products only to find they disappoint or turn out to be much better than expected when used for the right purpose.

“We’ve also learned to pay close attention to any feedback relating to the ROVR because people are often right.”

A virtual reality community

The South West is regularly referred to as the European capital for virtual reality with a huge amount of support and collaboration going on in this area of tech.

Julian agrees: “Globally it would be hard to find anywhere better placed. From manufacturing suppliers to academic institutes and game devs we can reach almost anyone we need to in just over an hour’s drive.

“Even when I lived in the states I’d often find the person or company I wanted to work with would be thousands of miles away. This country is ideal for R&D, creativity and cooperative ventures.”

He adds: “I think Opposable Games have been heroic in championing VR in the UK. This is a fabulous, high value, clean and future-looking industry that the UK should not miss out on, especially as we excel in the talent it needs.

“And it’s always good to see Joe Ryan and his VRGO Chair. It’s a different take on the locomotion problem and we’ve tried to hand on manufacturing tips where relevant. The biggest threat to VR is when devs or companies try to avoid using the right tool and end up with a mediocre UX.”

Thanks to Julian for taking the time to chat with us about WizDish. To find out more, check out the Wizdish ROVR website or follow them on Twitter here: @wizdish.