Chinese virtual reality startup KAT received $1M USD in a round of angel investment led by Unity Ventures, they announced on Monday. The startup’s flagship product, KAT WALK, is an omni-directional ‘treadmill’ that lets users physically explore worlds in virtual reality.
After strapping into a hanging harness, KAT WALK users can walk, run, wave their arms, and swivel around in place. Special shoe covers interact with KAT WALK’s concave base, mapping the user’s movement in virtual reality. The product can sense up to 35 centimeters of vertical movement, including jumping, through KAT WALK’s sensors and harness.
“Frictionless walking is awkward, like walking on ice. To make walking in VR feel more natural, KAT WALK uses special high-friction material and the constant force of rolling friction,” explains the company on their Kickstarter campaign page. “This makes you feel like you are walking on real ground instead of sliding walk.”
The product is meant to overcome one of the fundamental barriers to virtual reality gaming: space constraints. The company claims that KAT WALK lets users experience limitless exploration in virtual reality without tripping over their living room table. They also claim that KAT WALK reduces the motion sickness sometimes induced by virtual reality.
“Virtual reality is about sensory immersion,” says Chen Pang, the CEO of KAT. “An important criterion for excellent VR products is how immersive they are.”
“KAT is committed to creating a more complete and unlimited virtual reality experiences for users,” she says. “After the KAT WALK series, KAT will create other virtual reality products.”
KAT WALK primarily targets small businesses, such as internet cafes, which can house the product and offer gamers more active VR content, like first-person-shooter (FPS) games. Currently, the product is headset-agnostic and can support any kind of VR content, as along as it incorporates KAT’s software development kit (SDK), which will be released “soon”, according to a spokesperson from KAT.
Last August the company ran a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, raising $149,278 USD. KAT is currently partnering with XIMMERSE, a Guangzhou-based research and development (R&D) company that focuses on mobile visual computing technology, as well as VR content companies Sureal Technology (超凡视幻), Mirage (幻视), and ZHJLAB (指挥家).
KAT CEO Chen Pang presents KAT WALK at TechCrunch Shanghai 2015, hosted by Technode.
Image credit: KAT
Update (2/23/2016 18:25): This post was updated to correct Chen Pang’s name. Previously, we published it as Pang Chen (surnames are first in Chinese).