Microsoft has filed a patent for a floor mat that could prevent you from crashing into furniture while you’re exploring new worlds in virtual reality. It’s also an indicator the company is still interested in bringing VR to the Xbox ecosystem, after it axed virtual reality plans for Xbox One.
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.
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.”
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.”
It’s worth noting that companies regularly patent all kinds of technology, and that such patent applications don’t necessarily suggest any active products under development. The mention of the game console in particular could have just been an attempt to cover all of its bases, and make sure that no one files a competing patent specifically for very use case.
Microsoft embraced the idea of bringing VR to the Xbox a few years ago, only to renege on its commitment in recent years. Executives have told the media that they had no plans to bring VR to the Xbox One, and the company made no mention of VR when it previewed the next-generation Xbox at this year’s E3 either.
Still, the appearance of the game console in this patent may give Xbox fans some hope. At the very least, the patent application may point to a future when VR gamers can more safely play in their living rooms without punching their walls and breaking thing.