We talked recently about how new headsets like the Oculus Quest can help pull virtual reality into the mainstream by solving the three key problems of cost, setup, and space. But we also talked about the compromise in quality required for that. If you have the space, though, Microsoft might have an alternative idea to Valve’s lighthouses on the way. Microsoft has filed a patent for a floor mat meant to be used in conjunction with VR systems.
Microsoft offers up a lot to unpack with the idea. Part of the problem with VR is that it can be isolating, and running into a glass coffee table isn’t conducive to a great play experience (so much as it is to an ER visit). The mat would provide an established play space in which to interact with VR. Many users already do something like this, using softer mats to make standing for hours at a time feel a little more friendly.
It’s not just carpet, though
This mat, though, would provide additional functionality. One possibility would be to run haptic feedback through the mat when the user is getting closer to the edge. Another version has the user standing in a specific spot and pointing the headset toward specific markers on the mat to establish a scanned play space that the headset itself can then track.
Microsoft also talks in the patent about this mat potentially being modular, allowing players with smaller spaces to configure a smaller mat.
Interestingly, the patent also seems to point at a potential future for virtual reality on Microsoft consoles. The patent specifically calls out the idea of being connected to a gaming console, with illustrations showing an Xbox and even a Kinect. That’s not a promise or even hint that that’s happening, but it’s a surprise considering that Microsoft was pretty public about canceling its Xbox VR plans.
The Microsoft VR Mat seems unlikely
Speaking on pure opinion, this seems like something Microsoft will likely not end up producing. Many VR enthusiasts are purchasing floor mats to define their spaces. Both major VR lines have options for defining play spaces already, though. Neither involves rolling out or assembling a mat each time someone wants to dive in.
VR users can wall-mount Lighthouses, and you can dynamically define multiple spaces with the Oculus Quest. A mat just adds more setup. If something like this did end up going to production, it seems like the kind of thing we’d see used in virtual reality arcades rather than in users’ homes.
But then, this Microsoft VR mat is just a patent, so it’s likely that we don’t have to worry much.