A couple of months ago the picture below was posted online under the comment: ‘So I got a glimpse of the future this morning…’.
The suggestion behind the photographer’s comment were clear and doesn’t paint our interaction with technology in positive way.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. It certainly wasn’t what was happening as I went cycling in a virtual reality world – even though it was in the middle of a central London gym.
I was hooked up to Widerun’s VR cycling kit where I was chased by zombies, rode through a winter world and left to roam through a hilly environment.
The set-up consisted of an adapted bike trainer, Oculus Rift, and laptop to power the virtual worlds. The Widerun kit has just launched on Kickstarter and is looking to raise £30,000 to develop their trainer to a commercial level.
Even though my bike ride was taking place in a series of virtual worlds the sweat I was experiencing while peddling through them was very real. And that’s where Widerun comes into its own and has the potential to be a technology that continues to entertain those who want to keep fit.
Once I had strapped the Oculus onto my head, managed to find the handlebars and forgotten about the gym full of strangers that were around, the physical experience of riding a bike was no different to that of any other exercise bike.
As with all virtual reality experiences there is an initial motion sickness that’s experienced by the user but in a few minutes this disappears along with the consciousness of looking different to everyone else around you.
While exploring the worlds several minutes flew by in what seemed like seconds.
Even though the paths I tested were mostly straight, the Italian team behind the product want to develop this further, the world’s around my vision were interesting enough to provide a distraction from the exercise that was going on below.
For those that get bored while staring at a wall in the gym Widerun provides a way to occupy your mind in a way that isn’t just putting in a pair of headphones can’t. Last month the founders explained to Factor that the technology is how they have reached the point they’re at now.
When I did venture off the track, using the newly developed steering system, it was possible to explore the worlds further. For me being able to steer the bike was a crucial part of the overall experience and on reflection was what made the experience the most immersive.
Being able to control the bike and where the ride was going made the experience different to anything that is already out there. If I wanted to ride off the road, I could. Controlling the bike and its direction forces you to pay attention to where you are travelling and doesn’t let the mind wonder onto how much exercise you are completing.
This said, the steering is not yet perfect by any means. When faced with some of the sharper corners, while being chased by zombies, it was difficult to get around the corners before my flesh was devoured. It was also difficult to determine the amount the handlebars could be turned as they could (obviously) not be seen in the real world.
As I found when being chased by zombies there is massive gamification potential with the set up. I would happily race against a friend who is also hooked up to another Widerun trainer somewhere in the world.
But there is also the option of using the cycling set-up for more serious training by athletes. As a keen runner it is exciting to think that I could explore a course and learn its layout while in a virtual world. There’s also the possibility for those racing drivers to learn circuits while working on their general fitness on the bike.
Incorporating distance biked, speed and intensity into the visual display would be useful for anyone who likes to monitor their performance while exercising.
After using the Widerun biking kit for a while it feels like this way of exercising will be one that becomes increasingly popular as virtual reality does.
Moving fitness into the VR sphere feels a natural extension from the growth in fitness trackers and their accompanying mobile applications.
By being immersed in our fitness routines we can enhance them and the glimpse of the future may not end up being the same as in the picture above.
Featured image, and images two, three, four five and six courtesy of Widerun