The Vreeclimber Project

The Vreeclimber is a virtual reality installation that enables rock climbing in virtual environments. The central idea is that the climbing person is enabled to climb continuously in attractive virtual environments while physically remaining at approximately the same height on a rotating wall equipped with a fixed layout of climbing grips of which all or just some are shown in the virtual world. That is, while the climber goes up, the wall rotates (when necessary, not continuously) down, thus keeping the climber in a horizontally stable position.

Possible applications include:

  • Climbing routes inspired by legendary ascends such as the Eiger Nordwand
  • Climbing on famous buildings (e.g. St. Stephan’s Cathedral, under development)
  • Climbing with reduced weight in training scenarios where more (easier) or less grips (more difficult) are shown
  • Climbing with reduced weight due to less gravity on the moon (under development) or in other exotic environments (open water climbing, planet Mars, etc.)

Eventually, the system will consist of the following components:

  • A rotating climbing wall equipped with standard climbing holds
  • A precise tracking system for hand, finger and feet tracking
  • State-of-the-art virtual reality hardware including a HTC Vive head-mounted display
  • The contents implemented as interactive VR applications in a game engine

The following picture shows the first prototype of the rotating climbing wall without grips. The size of the artifact is approx. HxWxD=4x4x3 meters. Motor and mechanics are hidden inside the wall. The entire wall consists of 39 parts which can be assembled by a team of three  people in approx. four hours.

Figure 1: The Vreeclimber Mark I is a rock climbing treadmill.

Figure 2 shows a climber on the wall, now equipped with a minimal set of climbing grips. Eventually each board of the wall will carry 8-9 grips in circular arrangement (see the tiny black holes on the boards)  so that every grip is surrounded by six other grips in a distance of approx. 25cm. By showing only some of these handles in the virtual applications climbing routes can be defined and applications can be tuned easier or harder thus allowing for a wide range of (serious) gaming and training applications.

Figure 2: Florin tests the stability of the prototype.

Major challenges in this project include – besides providing the funds – the provision of a precise and fast yet affordable finger tracking system and robust but cheap hardware for the rotating wall. The first prototype of the rotating wall was constructed based on Doka parts (a donation by the company – many thanks!).

The current status of the project is:

  1. Rotating climbing wall [70% finished]: Prototype is finished & working; missing are a better set of motors for rotation and tilting of the wall, the protection rope &  minor improvements of the mechanics
  2. Virtual Reality setup (excl. tracking) + game engine [100% finished]. We use Nvidia graphics cards, the HTC Vive head-mounted display, Sennheiser headphones and the Unity game engine.
  3. Tracking setup [50% finished]: Prototype works; currently one student is working on a re-implementation of the code in Java for easier binding to the Unity game engine
  4. Climbing content [25% finished]: First content layouts are available for climbing on the moon (see Figure below) and on St. Stephen’s cathedral; next steps include virtual representation of the wall, alignment of virtual and physical wall and the game configuration
  5. Testing and refinement [5% finished]: The next step will be a first user test with the static wall with/without virtual reality hardware and a first test with the rotating wall

A first fully operational prototype will approx. be available by the end of 2018.

Figure 3: The moon content contains the virtual wall (foreground) and a lunar scenario (background). The player’s mission will be to escape from the crater.

So far, the following people & institutions have contributed to the Vreeclimber project:

  • TU Wien management provided the workspace by tolerating our use of the Hybrid Lab (home of the Virtual Jumpcube) for this project.
  • Doka donated the wooden construction materials for the treadmill.
  • Shoes were donated by boulderbar (Peter Emberger; contact suggested by Florian Holzner), Leo Mayerhofer, Peter Schüller, Tanja Travnicek and Richard Vogl – many thanks for your help!
  • Würth gives us significant discounts on all iron parts available in their e-shop.
  • Wolfgang Kastner, Stefan Seifried and the Automation Research group supported us with their advice and three motors + controllers.
  • Ludwig Steindl developed a tracking system in his diploma thesis and provided valuable general input to the project.
  • Onur Gürcay develops the moon content in a lab project.
  • Natascha Machner develops the building climbing app in a diploma thesis.
  • Roman Voglhuber develops Ludwig’s tracking system further (diploma thesis).
  • Florin Hillebrand supports the project with his advice, experience as a climber and muscular force.
  • Maia Rohm helped us testing the first version of the weight-reducing climbing gear.
  • The faculties of architecture and civil engineering have once more proven to be tolerant and humorous neighbors.

We would like to thank all contributors for their valuable input and support!

For more information on this project, please contact Horst Eidenberger, Institute of Visual Computing and Human-Centered Technology (193-06), TU Wien (horst.eidenberger@tuwien.ac.at).