Right now the solutions for walking through large virtual reality environments are quite limited. You're typically looking at either a 360-degree treadmill or playing in a gigantic physical space. Google, however, might have a better solution -- although we're not sure if we'd call it elegant. The company has applied for a patent on VR shoes (really, roller skates) that would let you walk anywhere in VR without bumping into a very real wall. The technology would track your feet and use motorized wheels on the footwear to bring you back to a "return zone" whenever you venture beyond a safe area. You'd avoid embarrassing collisions -- though you'd also look like a massive dork, if Google's less-than-flattering illustrations are any indication.
The patent appears to be a catch-all that addresses a number of possible solutions ranging from straightforward wheels to omnidirectional units that could react to sideways movement.
It's far from certain that Google will turn this patent application into shipping skates. In addition to the cost concerns, there are practical ones. What happens if you fall? How well would the footwear handle unexpected movement, or a run? Still, it's good to know that Google is at least anticipating a future where VR no longer feels quite so confining.