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"[Science fiction] is the one literary medium left in which we have a free hand. We can do any damn thing we please."
- Alfred Bester

Auto-Treadmills (Needle-Gym)  
  A simulation-exercise room floor that allows the user to walk and run on a consistently realistic surface.  

Using your feet is a great way to pick a direction - even in a virtual reality simulation space. But how can you keep walking - while staying in a limited area?

The young, and breeding females, we let flash by without harm. But then, trailing and already foaming with fatigue, came the old buck, its leap leaden, unsteady, and I knew the program really was taking it easy on me today.

Long Stick howled. I sprinted from cover, swiftly taking the lead. The auto-treadmill's bumps and gullies matched whatever terrain the goggles showed me, so my feet knew how to land and thrust off again. The body suit brushed my skin with synthetic wind. Flared nostrils inhaled sweat, exhilaration, and for a time I forgot I was in a tiny room on the eightieth floor of a suburban Chitown con-apt, surrounded by fifty million neighbors.

From Natulife, by David Brin.
Published by Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1994
Additional resources -

Here's a description of what the floor actually consists of:

Cursing I tore off the helmet, gashing my cheek on the strap. The body suit still formed a matrix of other-world sensations -- hot savannah wind and gritty moccasins. But abruptly my eyes saw a tiny, off-white chamber, its coarse floor of needles mimicking a steep hillside. Sense-conflict made me sway in confusion as I dove for the door.
Take a look at the VirtuSphere Immersive Virtual Reality "hamster-ball" for one way to have your infinite directions in a limited spae. You might also take a look at the CirculaFloor (Smart Tile Holodeck?), which I saw demonstrated at Wired's NextFest 2005. If you maintained a slow, strolling pace, the little circula-floor tiles would rush along to give you a place to step; it was a trip.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Natulife
  More Ideas and Technology by David Brin
  Tech news articles related to Natulife
  Tech news articles related to works by David Brin

Auto-Treadmills (Needle-Gym)-related news articles:
  - inFORM Dynamic Shape Output Device

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