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NASA JPL uses Oculus Rift and Virtuix Omni to walk on Mars

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NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is using the Virtuix Omni, an omnidirectional virtual reality treadmill, in conjunction with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to explore the surface Mars.

In a recent interview with Engadget, Human Interfaces Engineer Victor Luo explains that they built the virtual environment using Mars terrain imagery captured from satellites, which could then be explored using an Xbox 360 controller. However, wanting to "literally 'walk' on the terrain," they contacted the Virtuix Omni treadmill creators during E3 and arranged to get a treadmill for their lab.

"Instead of looking at a two-dimensional image, they would know [for example] that the rock is to the left of the rover," Luo told Engadget. "They can collaboratively look at the space and say, hey, we should go up to the right of the canyon... It makes sense to use something like this for a more immersive and more natural experience."

Luo mentioned that they'd like "more sensors built into it, leverage the capabilities a lot more," while acknowledging that it is still "early days." In another JPL project involving the Oculus Rift, users can explore the interior of the International Space Station mapped by JPL.