Two systems developed independently promise to make the holodeck more feasible, by creating the illusion of unlimited space and simulating different kinds of surfaces, respectively.
Star Trek’s Holodeck simulated practically any imaginable environment. It used realistic holograms—the kind you could touch, talk to, eat, or even sleep with—to create the most immersive entertainment ever. Normally, a holodeck room would be large, but not spacious enough to allow the user to run for say, a hundred meters without any special kind of technology.
That’s where the first system comes in. The Cyberwalk is basically a two-way treadmill, the result of a Italian-German collaboration. An array of small treadmills are all attached to a larger one, providing continuous movement into two dimensions. It’s currently used to let virtual reality (VR) users walk any which way, with computers tracking the user’s movement and adjusting the speed of the belts to keep him in the middle.
The Holodeck is also capable of simulating any locale stored in the massive historical record of Starfleet. Different areas call for different surfaces, which is where haptic floor tiling comes in. This system, under development at McGill University in Canada, is primarily a malleable plate mounted on a platform, with sensors for detecting the user feet in between. The secret sauce? Using vibrations to simulate the feel of different surfaces, like sand or marble. Courtesy of the sensors, the floor tiling also doubles as a giant touch-screen interface.
Details for both projects are through the links below. Now that we can simulate various surfaces and let VR users walk (or even run?) all day, all we need are those realistic holograms. Any news on that front? If so, feel free to hit the comments.