Factor Reviews: Widerun’s virtual reality cycling

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. IMG_7725

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


With the unveiling of Valve and HTC’s Vive, and a release date for Sony’s Project Morpheus, virtual reality is finally making the jump to consumers. We look at how VR is set to rule

After the unveiling of Vive, HTC and Valve’s virtual reality offering earlier this week, Sony has provided long-awaited updates to Project Morpheus, the gaming giant’s VR peripheral for PS4.

Significantly, Project Morpheus has also been given a preliminary release date: it will be available to buy in the first half of 2016.

VR is looking to be a consumer hit, making it the biggest new class of consumer tech devices since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad

This follow’s HTC confirmation that Vive will be released for the 2015 holiday season, meaning we are likely to see it go on sale to consumers in early November.

Given that the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, the pioneer of modern VR, is widely rumoured to be coming out this year as well, it looks as if our January prediction that 2015 would be the year of virtual reality is coming true.

VR is looking to be a consumer hit, making it the biggest new class of consumer tech devices since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad.

Project Morpheus: Premium VR console gaming

As the only major VR device designed for console gaming, Project Morpheus is going for the premium living room gaming experience.

Not only has Sony upgraded the screen from a 5 inch LCD to a 5.7 inch 1920 x 1080 OLED, but the device will also be capable of rendering at 120 frames per second, giving the impression of reality-like movement and contributing to a sense of hi-def realism that will be prized by graphics-loving gamers.

The updated Project Morpheus, courtesy of Sony.

The updated Project Morpheus, courtesy of Sony.

Combine this with a latency of only 18 milliseconds, and the device is set to achieve the all-important sense of “presence”; the Oculus-coined term that has become the key goal for VR headset makers looking to ensure maximum immersion and avoid side-effects such as motion sickness.

Sony also said that the device will have improved tracking and will be lighter and easier to take on and off, features that should help to widen the appeal from the converted hardcore gamers to those still on the fence.

Those waiting for game details, however, will have to wait a little longer. Sony has confirmed those details will be announced at E3 and beyond.

In reality, the games will be the ultimate maker or breaker of Morpheus. Xbox’s Kinect was met with similar excitement when first announced, but few traditional games made use of the peripheral, rendering it a second class device that really only worked well for dance and fitness games.

Sony’s E3 presentation will need to include an array of triple A PS4 games designed specifically for Morpheus if it is to avoid a similar fate.

HTC Vive: Steam-powered VR from Valve

The HTC Vive, or Re Vive as it is also known, has very much been the curveball of this year’s Game Developers Conference. Essentially a PC peripheral for Steam games, it will bring high-quality VR gaming to computers, with Valve’s movement-tracking tech Lighthouse allowing wearers to move around in reality as well as in the virtual space.

The final consumer specs for Vive are still to be announced, but the developer version suggests that when these are released they will be similar to Morpheus.

Developers, who will be able to get their hands on Vive from April, will be using a version of Vive that doesn’t quite match Morpheus for specs, but still achieves that all-important presence.

The 1,200 x 1,920 screen will have a 90 frames per second refresh rate, a level HTC says will be enough to provide true immersion.

There will also be a custom controller, which will be designed for use while wearing the headset and so presumably will be easy to use without having to actually look at. This may be a feature that where Valve has an edge over Sony.

The developer version of Vive, courtesy of HTC.

The developer version of Vive, courtesy of HTC.

However, despite being a remarkable and exciting announcement, Valve’s lack of comment about a certain long-awaited game has left a small cloud over the news.

Anticipation for Half Life 3 has been building for years, turning fans into cryptographers as they pour over announcements for clues.

There was a hope that yesterday would be the big day, thanks to a Valve-run GDC session booked on 3/3 at 3pm about gaming physics.

However, it was just another red herring, and for now the hype train seems to have slowed. There could still be an announcement at GDC – Valve does have more talks scheduled – but at this stage unbridled optimism just seems foolish.

But if Valve want to make Vive a guaranteed success, HL3 as a launch title is an obvious choice. As always, fans will just have to wait and hope.

Oculus Rift: Left in the dust?

From a gaming perspective, Oculus is starting to look like the last one to the party, despite being responsible for the re-emergence of VR as a viable form of technology.

It has no consumer release date, although will probably be released this year, and last year’s purchase by Facebook left many baffled.

The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, courtesy of Oculus.

The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, courtesy of Oculus.

Valve had previously had talks with Oculus, and it is entirely possible they had originally planned to partner with them before Facebook came on the scene.

The company does, of course, already have a mobile VR offering in the form of the Samsung Gear, but the mobile VR market is unlikely to be the main area once VR-proper makes the jump to consumers.

As it is, it is increasingly looking like Oculus will be as much about non-gaming VR uses as it is gaming ones. And that isn’t a bad thing.

Virtual reality has some incredible possibilities outside of gaming, from exercise to cookery and VR internet to healthcare, and it would be a shame to see these swallowed by the gaming behemoth.

However, unless Morpheus or Vive open up to non-gaming uses, Oculus will need to tackle these areas alone, and the popularity of these other applications will rely on high device ownership.

Given that gaming is set to be the main way most people will access VR, Oculus will need to work for gamers too if it is to be guaranteed the level of ownership that has been projected.

But one thing looks certain: VR headsets are going to be in high demand, and it may not be all that long before we struggle to imagine a time before they existed.