Microsoft has filed a patent application for a dedicated floor mat for virtual reality (VR), which could help users avoid obstacles while wearing a headset. The patent application also suggests that the company hasn’t given up entirely on the idea of bringing VR to its Xbox game console.
A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment.
The patent application for a “virtual reality floor mat activity region,” which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week, deals with a real-world problem that many VR users have experienced first-hand: VR provides full immersion, completely blocking out the outside world. That includes walls, coffee tables, shelves and other objects that a player may hit or bump into while playing a VR game.
VR systems aim to reduce the risk of such accidents with the help of guardian systems, which display warning messages when users leave the play space, or sometimes even make the VR world disappear completely — but those warnings haven’t prevented a number of accidents documented by players on social media. In fact, a Russian VR gamer is said to have died after falling through a glass table in 2017.
A number of players have tried to prevent these kinds of accidents by getting their own rubber floor mats, giving them an additional physical cue that helps to stay inside their play space. Microsoft’s patent application builds upon that same idea, but adds a few extra bells and whistles.
These include special fiducial markers that could be used by a VR headset to recognize a mat, and adjust play space settings accordingly. The patent application also explores the idea of having a dedicated start position; players could for instance position their feet on special foot markers in the middle of the mat to launch a VR experience.
The patent application also describes the possibility of including pressure sensors directly into the mat itself: “A virtual reality mat may include a plurality of spatially distributed pressure sensors integrated into the mat to detect a physical pressure or force applied to an activity surface of the mat,” it reads. “Such pressure sensors enable the virtual reality system to identify where the user is standing in relation to the mat, without necessarily requiring that the user be visually detected by an optical sensor.”
What’s more, the mat could also provide haptic feedback, according to the patent application: “The floor mat may include one or more vibration devices integrated into the floor mat to generate vibration at the floor mat; and the virtual reality experience may be augmented by generating vibration at the floor mat via at least one vibration device of the one or more vibration devices.”