Virtual Reality Go-Karts from Master of Shapes and BlackTrax

Master of Shapes, the championing master of innovation and all things unique, has created a first-of-its-kind way for anyone to drive real go-karts while wearing a VR headset such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. From integrating technology to match the feat at hand, to creating the VR racetracks and overall experience, the VR go-karting project has had its complications and rewards.

The greatest reward has been to witness the project come to fruition, both virtually and in reality.

For this project, Master of Shapes joined forces with BlackTrax, Intel and K1 Speed to put you behind the wheel of an actual go-kart, on a real-life racetrack. This delivers a fully immersive VR go-karting experience, the likes of which the world has not seen before. This new, real-time VR experience comes complete with cornering g-forces and torque from the electric motor that pushes racers back into their seat, reaching speeds of up to 45 mph.

This is not a simulator. You are driving a real go-kart within a VR environment.

This innovative partnership is a dream-come-true for those who have wanted to experience real-life Mario Kart racing. The official VR Mario Kart may have caught the world by storm with its cool looks and gameplay, but its racing aspect was only a simulation of the real deal.

How did BlackTrax assist with this feat?

We added two BTBeacons with six BTStringers per cart, creating a six-point rigid body. A six-point rigid body is used for redundancy’s sake. Real-time tracking for the kart is done with a three-point rigid body. A six-point allows up to three infrared LED signals to be occluded while still maintaining functional tracking of the go-kart.

BlackTtrax Sensor, hung from pipe.
27 BlackTrax Sensors were used to cover the entire race track with ample redundant coverage.

With things that haven’t been done before, it’s always a challenge to adapt to a new environment. It is important to be meticulous in planning, from conception to execution. Every twist and turn of the Torrance, California racetrack was lidar-scanned once to provide the real-world mesh of the racetrack. This layout was used to build the VR race course with Unreal Engine.

27 of our BlackTrax sensors were set up above the racetrack to detect the driver’s position and feed that position into the Unreal Engine. Once the BTSensors were positioned and focused, the BlackTrax calibration process was completed. The whole process took no longer than fifteen minutes.

For reflecting the physical steering wheel rotations and gas/brake presses, another technology was used. A micro-controller on the kart, called the Teensy, reacts in real-time to any movement in the kart; every push of the throttle or gas pedal, and every turn of the wheel is registered and reflected in real-time within the virtual reality environment.

Fully immersive VR go-karting experience.
BlackTrax tracked racing karts at 45mh delivering 6D of data to unreal engine, platform used to design the custom VR system.

Though beating the clock is familiar as the objective of the race, everything else about this hybrid experience is different. A pass-through camera is planned for future iterations of this project, which will offer a real-world thumbnail view within the headset’s field of view. It is a feature to be delivered for those who need real-world assurance on their physical location.

Unlike other VR experiences, this one does not induce motion sickness since drivers get real-world feedback from the kart and the racetrack as they are driving. The VR course also reacts to the drivers’ actions. There are laser speed traps and speed boosts littered throughout the VR racetrack; when the go-karts drive over them, the karts respond appropriately with either a sudden loss of power or boost of speed.

As drivers navigate the racetrack, they race past towering skyscrapers, futuristic light posts, flaming barriers, lasers, scattered wreckage, and more – all in an eerie red ambiance. Of course, the experience would not be complete without a perfect synth-laden soundtrack.

But, is it safe?

K1 Speed already has a wireless control system that can adjust the speed limitations of their karts, or outright stop them. This is performed on all karts on the racetrack simultaneously, manually by an operator in an instant or automatically for individual karts, for speed traps or boosts. This capability will ensure the safety of go-karts in all environments, real or virtual.

Thanks to these measures, if there is a technical issue or accident on the racetrack, K1 Speed has safety measures in place to ensure both the safety of their drivers and their staff.

In conclusion, with technology like this emerging, it is exciting to think of where this will lead. Virtual reality takes real-life experiences to a whole new level of immersion. The option to race on various custom tracks, in different worlds with diverse scenarios and challenges, makes the entire experience even more engaging.

The ideas and possibilities are endless!

With this new level of immersion, it really poses the question of “Where to next?”. Every day, we find new purposes for BlackTrax technology.


Master of Shapes: