Let’s face it, gyms are boring, dull, tedious places. Bleak walls and rows upon rows of sweating punters don’t make for a very inspiring environment.
Even with a pair of headphones and a TV screen it’s easy to become distracted and let your mind wander off into a fantasy world.
But what if we could start our exercise session in a world that isn’t our own?
You could be cycling through a 3D rendering of an ancient lost city, the world of Game of Thrones, or a realistic urban sprawl.
Widerun, a virtual reality startup, has created a cycling kit that takes you away from the monotonous cycling at the gym and instead lets you cycle through the virtual world of your choice.
“We are the first bringing 3D virtual reality to fitness. There are a lot of competitors doing it but with external screens,” Jasmin Mair, from Widerun, told Factor.
“There are a lot of people working within this branch, but I think we are the first attempt to really put together the fitness experience itself with 3D virtual reality.”
Get on your bike
The set-up is simple: the trainer device holds the rear wheel of the bike and also connects to a VR headset.
The ‘smart bike trainer’ isn’t just limited to the Oculus Rift – the Ferrari of the VR world – but also works with the Samsung Gear and more.
With the virtual reality you can give people the feeling that they are not in their boring basement. They are actually somewhere having fun.
From there you can start cycling through different worlds, which come with music, sound effects and more. At present, the Italy-based team have developed a series of worlds that can be cycled through, although they have also made an open marketplace where developers can sell their own 3D games and are developing an SDK.
There is also the option to compete against friends in other locations.
Although products like the Wii Fit balance board and apps such as ‘Zombies, Run!’ have helped to popularise the gamification of exercise, this was not the motivation behind creating Widerun.
“Indoor fitness is not motivating at all. They [competitors] are trying to do it with gamification and so on, but in our opinion that’s not enough,” said Mair.
“With the virtual reality you can give people the feeling that they are not in their boring basement. They are actually somewhere having fun.”
The founders themselves have experienced this issue. Living in the Italian Alps, they are limited to exercises indoors during snow-laden winters.
The VR element doesn’t mean that the product is being developed just for those who are trying to start exercising regularly, although it will clearly be an appealing option to the gym-averse.
In fact, Mair said that they envisage the system, which will be on Kickstarter within the coming months, could be used by those who are competing competitively.
“You can think about it in very different ways. On one side you can have virtual reality in the sense of training on a Tour De France track, for real cyclists you can simulate the tracks, and on the other side you can also have games where you have to complete small challenges,” she said.
The ability to create custom cycling tracks that replicate real-life courses means that the system may be appealing to established athletes. A cyclist can become intimately familiar with a race track before they compete on it.
Future of fitness
Technology certainly has a large part to play in the future of exercise and fitness. Wearables allowing us to track our steps and monitor our health have been at the forefront of this, but virtual reality could have a significant future in the lucrative fitness market.
The fitness company Runtastic has previously created an Oculus version of the 7-minute workout, but this doesn’t add any resistance or longevity to an exercise period.
To make its bike trainer as realistic as possible, Widerun introduced resistance to the tracks. “Our bike trainer is fully responsive. If you accelerate and if you start spinning harder you will accelerate inside the virtual reality, so it gives you the experience of being there,” Mair said.
“Additionally there is a feedback part so you see you’re going uphill and you actually feel that in your legs.”
She added that development is underway to enable the experience of going downhill. There is also work being completed to add steering to the set-up, which will allow riders to go off the tracks.
The company may only be starting out, but it believes that it could fill the hole in the VR fitness market that currently exists.
As VR technology becomes cheaper and more affordable for all – the Oculus Rift is hoped to be on sale to the mass market by the end of the year – the interest in combining fitness with the technology will grow.
A lot will depend on the success of the Kickstarter campaign, which will see the kit available at no more than $500, however Widerun hopes to be cycling at the front of the pack when the VR boom happens. And the vision isn’t just limited to the bike.
“We would like to explore, I’m speaking in about two or three years time, other fitness devices. I’m not saying the treadmill, but the elliptical machine and so on – so other devices which you could use on a wider platform,” Mair said.
“The goal is really to bring virtual reality into fitness, with WideRun we start with the cycling part but we would like to expand and really make fitness experiences more motivating. We are planning to expand to other devices and let the platform grow.”