#49: Scott Phillips on his VR Walker shoe-based locomotion idea, Dactyl Nightmare inspiration, & connecting your unconscious mind to VR for presence, creative expression & esoteric self-exploration of the human condition.

Scott Phillips was making 3D scans of people at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference and part of his toll was to listen to his pitch about his shoe-based, locomotion idea called the the VR Walker.

scott-phillipsI decided to record the pitch in this interview, and it turned out to be one of the most interesting surprises of the conference that ranged from VR locomotion, early inspirations from one of the first famous VR experiences, and ended up at occult applications of the VR walker for psychological explorations into the human condition.

The VR Walker was still in an early iteration phase that doesn’t quite have a working prototype just yet. But Scott shared his vision of what could be a shoe-based design that would allow locomotion within VR without actually moving in real life. Eventually, he sees that this idea could evolve to the point where it could be integrated into wearable shoes, but it’s an ambitious project that is definitely thinking outside of the box when it comes to VR locomotion.

vrwalkerScott shared his early inspirations from the famous Dactyl Nightmare VR experience but also his insights into tapping into the creative potential of your unconscious mind through the work of surrealist painter Salvador Dalí and through esoteric traditions like the Tarot and Kabbalah.

This is when I decided to dive into the occult Rabbit Hole since I’ve published nearly 150 interviews through my Esoteric Voices podcast, and am working on a VR experience that will eventually be able to create customized archetypal experiences based upon someone’s astrological theory of their personality, but also how that changes and evolves over time.

Scott’s big insight for me is that there is something mysterious and magical about the power of our unconscious mind, and the process of shuffling a Tarot deck is a way to connect your unconscious mind to the symbols. His theory is that the process of walking is an unconscious act, and that through walking within VR that we may be able to tap into our unconscious creative potential or eventually be able to take unconscious body language cues or use occult traditions to be able to do inner self-exploration to learn more about ourselves and our human condition.

It’s a radical and interesting idea, and something that made me give another look at the power of physical locomotion within VR and how that could give us more of a sense of presence, but also have other esoteric and occult applications that we don’t yet understand or really even fully know how to tap into.

Reddit discussion here.


  • 0:00 – Shoe-based VR locomotion device. Move in VR, but not in real life. Sensor at the center of gravity. Looks at orientation of shoe modules, and change the direction of the VR walker wheels. Intended to be able to ship with a game console
  • 2:12 – How it’s powered and operated with motors. Doesn’t require a lot energy, but the prototype is powered
  • 2:52 – Do you have a working prototype? Not yet, and working towards that.
  • 3:16 – Putting wheels on the feet and simplicity of the design. Part of the wearable computing trend, eventually be like normal shoes.
  • 4:00 – External cameras that are needed. Need to sense center of gravity relative to ground plane and the orientation of the shoe modules.
  • 4:47 – Dactyl Nightmare was the inspiration for this. First experiences in 1994, and was blown away. But he was upset that he couldn’t walk around.
  • 6:43 – Been tracking VR since Dactyl Nightmare and had a number of iteration of VR walker ideas since then.
  • 8:05 – Could be a part of a remote android control system
  • 8:48 – First heard about Oculus Rift was Eureka, and that it’s finally been done.
  • 9:32 – Fan of surrealist Salvador Dalí and rendering your unconscious in artist medium. Wants to become the Salvador Dalí of VR in that he wants to be a part of a community of people who are building tools to empower people’s creativity and communicate their inner essence
  • 10:40 – Jung and Freud on the unconscious and subconscious playing out in VR. VR the occult and Kaballah, and the Tarot and a symbolic map of the human condition, and VR has an interesting role to play for humans understanding themselves on an esoteric level.
  • 11:52 – Esoteric applications of VR as a tool for self-exploration and providing customized archetypal experiences to people based upon esoteric traditions like archetypal astrology.
  • 13:05 – The act of shuffling Tarot cards connects your unconscious to the deck, and you have the potential with VR to achieve something similar because your unconscious mind controls acts like walking. VR Walker is a tool to integrate your unconscious mind into VR.
  • 14:14 – Walking motion is an unconscious act. Shuffling a card deck connects our unconscious mind to a deck, and things like the VR Walker would connect your unconscious to a VR experience from an occult perspective. Thinks that one of the most interesting applications of VR would be to have an experience that teaches you about yourself.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.975] Scott Phillips: My name's Scott Phillips. I have the vrwalkerproject.com. And so the VR Walker is a shoe-based device that's functionally equivalent to an omnidirectional treadmill for virtual locomotion. So this is my attempt to provide the best solution possible for the problem of virtual locomotion. So when you're in virtual reality, if you're walking around, then typically you're walking around in real life too, and you're potentially running into things. So the VR walker enables you to do that, but to not move around in the real life environment whilst you're walking in the virtual environment. We have basically a sensor located at the user's midsection, the centre of gravity. In the Chinese it's the dantian. So when that moves, then we know that you actually really intend to move through space. You're not doing the Cossack dance or the can-can, you're actually trying to walk. So then the VR walker takes account of the orientation of the shoe modules and does some trigonometry to calculate the direction of the wheeled casters. So they all point then in the direction that you're trying to move and are driven backwards. So the net effect of that is you don't go anywhere, you have to turn it off or crawl to get away, which is exactly what you want in a virtual environment to facilitate continuous walking around. So then you can go for a stroll with Mario or do anything. Every virtual reality environment practically has a ground plane, often roads and footpaths, but people can't walk along them, they've got to press buttons at the moment. So this is an attempt to bring a product that's able to be sold in a box with a game console and shipped to anywhere in the world, purchased out of a department store, carried home in your hands and set up in your lounge room. rather than, you know, forklift and knocking a wall out of your living room to get a treadmill installed in there.

[00:02:11.815] Kent Bye: And so, are there motors in there, and how's it powered?

[00:02:14.958] Scott Phillips: Yeah, there's two sets of motors, one set steers and the other set drives. So, the drive motors are going to be brushless DC motors, actually quite small, because they have to be to get inside such a compact device. But the cute thing about it is that this device is working hard to do nothing, so it doesn't actually require much in the way of energy into those motors, because you're providing most of the energy to move it backwards when you're pushing to go forwards. So there's no batteries at all then? Mains powered initially, then battery powered eventually, and eventually completely wireless. And probably induction charging, something like that as well.

[00:02:52.662] Kent Bye: So how does it work in practice? Are you able to actually put it on and walk around and feel like you're able to walk in infinite space?

[00:02:59.786] Scott Phillips: Presently, it's early stage demo. So we're working towards achievement of the working prototype at the moment. We are looking for funding and development partners. And once we can put those ducks in a row, then we can talk about timeframes for delivering.

[00:03:15.484] Kent Bye: Yeah, great. It seems like another take, putting wheels on the feet rather than creating a treadmill or external device. It sounds like it's a lot more potentially lightweight and simple in its design.

[00:03:26.433] Scott Phillips: Yeah, that's always been the plan. And, you know, it maps in with the whole trend towards wearable technology. You know, of course, head-mounted displays and headphones and iPhones and all that sort of stuff is all effectively wearable computing. So this follows that trend. I'm really looking forward to designing and building a system that's completely inconspicuous that looks absolutely like any other pair of shoes and being able to reach into my pocket, hit a button and then immobilize myself and just freak people out. Be Michael Jackson without the skill.

[00:03:59.534] Kent Bye: I see, and so is there any sort of external camera-based sensing that needs to happen, or is it just one physical sensor on your body?

[00:04:07.102] Scott Phillips: So there are two things that we need to sense. One is the position of your center of gravity relative to the ground plane, so what I call an X and Y. And then we also need to know the orientation of both of the shoe modules. Really, at the moment, we can go in plenty of different directions in terms of sensing. I tend to suspect that accelerometers might be the preferable way to do it, mostly because we've got electric motors in the shoe units themselves. So if we can use a magnetic system for orientation tracking of the shoes, that would be fantastic. We might look at also a hybrid system, and also we know that we can use optics if we need to as well.

[00:04:47.102] Kent Bye: And what was the thing that inspired you to design and build this?

[00:04:51.368] Scott Phillips: Dactyl Nightmare, which was a classic game on the old W Industries virtuality rigs that I played in a suburban shopping centre in my home state of Tasmania in Australia. And in Tas, nobody knew about it and I was running around the turnstiles and spent two days pretty solid in virtual reality in about 1994. And when I got in there, it had a sort of bum bag arrangement, a holster with a polyhemous tracker, handset. When you put that in front of the mask, it was a gun with a warhead on the end of it. And what I was amazed about was what I now know to be inverse kinematics, working the elbow. Like I could position my elbow, even though it wasn't tracked, just off the handset. That was pretty amazing. And then I looked down at my body and I had like a Lego man on steroids kind of avatar. It was all very chunky polygons back in those days. And that blew my mind. And then I'm kicking my feet around, but my avatar feet didn't move at all. And the attendant guy, I could hear him, he said, oh no, mate, you can't walk around. I'm saying, oh, what the hell am I supposed to do? He said, oh, you've got to press the button on your handset to move forward in the direction that your head's pointing. I'm like, well, how do I go backwards? And he says, well, you turn around, you press the button, then you turn back around. I said, this is a shooting game. That's the best way I know to get shot in the back. Like, you know, my buddy's here, he's like, out to get me. You know, so it was red versus blue, shoot him up. When you're not getting shot by your buddy, then you're getting attacked by this enormous, great, big, green pterodactyl bird. And the fun thing about it was that you only got one shot. It'd take you too long to reload. If you missed it, you're dead. It's going to pick you up and then drop you, smash you on the ground. So what you had to do, I worked out eventually after getting killed repeatedly. is wait till the absolute last moment, this enormous great big green dinosaur bird bearing right down on you. Aim, hold your nerve, shoot, blow him out of the sky right in front of your eyes. It's a hilarious game.

[00:06:44.633] Kent Bye: Great, and so how did you sort of get back into virtual reality? Was it the Oculus Rift, or had you been tracking it all since the 90s?

[00:06:51.458] Scott Phillips: I've been tracking it ever since, because two weeks after playing Dactyl Nightmare, I came up with the first Eureka-like idea that you could actually achieve this. So that was a large ball on friction drives in X and Y, with a polyhemist type of tracker, that you needed a three-story building to put it in. It only ever existed in my mind as a thought experiment. But then I made that into lots of little balls into a treadmill type of thing, much like the thing that's over here. But that was obviously too complicated to manufacture. What I end up doing is going, all right, just try this as an idea, throw out all the balls except for the four balls in the corners of this device, make it small, flip it upside down, put them on your feet. And that is really the crucial idea for the VR walker. And since then I've gone from friction drive to directly driven motorised casters to make the thing work. And that's a design approach that has stuck ever since. And it's been quite a long road just to get to still a very early stage yet. But I had a lot of thought put into it. There's many different implications of this device in terms of future applications. One of the things that I'm What we're looking forward to getting around to eventually is having the system be part of a remote Android control system. So we're seeing a lot of robotics projects that can walk now, like human-style bipedal locomotion. And with a device like this, you could actually control that quite directly, like one-to-one body skeletal mapping. You're then actually talking about the prospect of having a machine that you can look out of its camera eyeballs and control its locomotion. You can actually go walk down the street with your Android and you're still at home. So, you know, that is going to have some pretty serious implications when that stuff hits the shops, you know.

[00:08:47.894] Kent Bye: Wow, and so I guess take a step back to the Rift and the timeline. How did you first hear of the Rift, and had you heard of it before the Kickstarter, or what was kind of your reaction once you saw this device coming online?

[00:09:00.380] Scott Phillips: Oh, my reaction was eureka, you know. It was quite amazing to see that it's finally been done, you know. And I mean, of course, it's taken the march of mobile telephone technology, MEMS accelerometers and that sort of thing, and the screen resolution to make the Oculus possible. I'm just thrilled that somebody's, you know, relatively quickly gotten on to, you know, woken up and smelled the coffee on that. Yeah, and these guys are just absolutely kicking it, and I totally love what's happening there.

[00:09:29.932] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as the potential for virtual reality and where it could go and what it can do?

[00:09:34.713] Scott Phillips: Oh, that's a great question. I'm a big fan of a surrealist painter by the name of Salvador Dalí. And Dalí's raison d'etre, his reason for being, was to render his unconscious for other people. So that's what motivated him to paint like he did, because he was trying to communicate at a very visceral, unconscious level. And for some reason, I just see that as art in its purest form. So I'm a big fan on a philosophical level as well as a visual level. And that's really what I want to do as well. And if anyone's read any Dali, he's like basically written manuals in how to become Salvador Dali. It's pretty funny. But I want to be the Salvador Dali of virtual reality. in that I want to be part of a community exactly like this that's building the tools to empower people's creativity and enabling people to communicate their inner essence in as many pixels as possible.

[00:10:40.140] Kent Bye: Yeah, just to follow on with that, you know, there's Jung and Freud who brought the subconscious and the collective unconscious into the mainstream in a lot of ways. And I'm curious in terms of like how you see virtual reality doing that. I know in some levels it speaks to our primal brain that we can't necessarily recognize. There's things that we know aren't real, but we feel are real on some level. But in terms of like that collective unconscious or the subconscious and, you know, the archetypal realm in that way, how do you see that sort of playing out in virtual reality specifically?

[00:11:10.822] Scott Phillips: Well, that's also a really excellent question, and my mind immediately goes to actually the occult, and particularly the Hebrew Kabbalah, which is the basis of, obviously, you know, Hebrew mysticism and, you know, most of Western culture. It also relates directly to the Tarot, and the Tarot relates directly to the human condition, and it's basically a symbolic map of the human condition. And I think that virtual reality has a very interesting role to play in the future of humans understanding themselves on that level. You know, beyond that, I cannot say.

[00:11:51.521] Kent Bye: Well, I wanted to just kind of go down the rabbit hole a little bit because the application that I am working on is an immersive astrology program. I'm an astrologer and I've interviewed over a hundred astrologers and so what I see is the potential to have, for me, immersive astrology where you're connecting to the stars and connecting to the geocentric rotation of the stars but there's also a symbolic element that you can start to really enter someone's birth date into virtual reality and start to really dial in and give a very specific archetypal experience to someone in virtual reality based upon their natal chart and their transits and all sorts of delineations in terms of some of these esoteric traditions. Now in some ways a lot of this has been unproven but I see in some ways that virtual reality could start to generate these experiences that are very customized to whatever someone's archetypal potential is for who they are as a being, but also what they are experiencing right now in their lives or for the last year or the next year to come. And so, to me, I do see this as a tool for self-exploration in terms of taking in a very simple input of a birth date and using a tool like astrology to start to have a theory as to what type of experience would be very tailored to this individual. So, for me, that's where I kind of see virtual reality going.

[00:13:04.155] Scott Phillips: That's completely amazing and it makes me think of the actual act of shuffling the cards because from what I've been led to understand the actual physical act of shuffling connects your unconscious to the deck and with virtual reality you have a wide variety of different methods to achieve pretty much the same thing because it's your unconscious mind that controls all your body movements, well mostly, particularly walking. So in a sense the VR walker is a virtual reality for your unconscious mind. And in that sense, it gives you an ultra-intuitive means of navigation. So it's no longer the joysticks on the game controllers or the button on the handset, but you can just blithely stagger off in whatever direction you don't even hardly think about. So it'd be interesting to explore those kind of unconscious connections to the system, to the machinery, and what information can be garnered from that info.

[00:14:12.558] Kent Bye: How is the unconscious connected to walking again?

[00:14:15.720] Scott Phillips: Well, you don't think about, consciously, putting one foot in front of the other, as walking around, generally, you don't really spend much mental energy working out one foot in front of the other. You just do it. You can just go, ah, over there now, and off you go. So the walking motion is understood to be almost entirely unconscious. you know, whatever that means. And, you know, I'm not even sure that the word is used at all accurately, ever. But, you know, it's kind of a useful symbol.

[00:14:44.182] Kent Bye: I see. So, just going through these unconscious motions kind of puts us in a state of mind to be able to open ourselves up to different experiences and virtualities, what you're kind of suggesting. It's like a key of unlocking the powers of our true potential through doing things that are distracting our minds in a way to open us up.

[00:15:01.695] Scott Phillips: Well, what I'm saying is that the act of shuffling cards in tarot is important to connect your unconscious with the deck. In virtual reality, so much of our motion, walking motion and whatever other, you know, even our gestures, head movements, hand gestures, is so unconscious that we have a really, a lot of that connection to the equipment per default. So it would be interesting to my mind to really investigate that You know, from an occult perspective, it sounds a bit wanky, but from the perspective of, alright, can we actually work things out about a person from the way they shake their head when they talk or move their hands when they are thinking about whatever they're thinking about. You know, that's a pretty broad topic, but yeah, I think really that to me would be the most interesting sort of experience in virtual reality is to be able to have something that, you know, you go into it and it teaches you about yourself. That'd be interesting to, I think, a lot of people. Great, well thanks so much. Yeah, no worries. Thanks a lot.

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