European researchers have built a system called the Cyberwalk that will allow individuals to literally walk through the ancient city of Pompeii.
The CyberWalk system itself comprises a very large surface that users walk on. The movement of the surface is controlled by a unique system that uses cameras to track the position and posture of the individual. To ‘see’ the city, the user wears a commercial head-mounted display through which the virtual environment is projected.
‘Walking through a virtual city was impossible before,’ said Marc Ernst, the co-ordinator of the CyberWalk project at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. ‘We are the first to demonstrate that you can walk through a virtual city.’
Several attempts have been made to develop omni-directional treadmills, with Japanese researchers producing prototypes, and a group in the US developing a smaller treadmill for military use. Neither allow for truly natural walking and immersion in a virtual environment.
‘You need a relatively large treadmill to simulate natural walking,’ explained Ernst. ‘The one that we have built is 6m by 6m, with an active walking area of 4.5m by 4.5m.’
To develop the large-scale virtual environment of Pompeii, the researchers took advantage of a software package called the CityEngine that was developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) . The software development environment is currently being commercialised for use in the gaming industry.
In the future, the Cyberwalk creators hope that other users might take advantage of the capabilities of the system. Architects, for example, could transport customers into the future, and allow them to walk through buildings even before they have been built.