Featured at CES this week, fitness company NordicTrack has developed a VR gaming and exercise experience with the NordicTrack VR Bike and the HTC VIVE Focus teatherless VR headset.
There are currently three VR gaming options available that have been uniquely developed for the VR Bike. One, Aeronauts, is an obstacle course where players navigate a path of rings in a free roam floating world of mountains and waterfalls.
When steering through the loops, the bike responds by moving up and down as the player directs the propeller powered aircraft they pilot through each check-point. While the 10% incline and decline movements of the bike aren’t entirely noticeable while playing the game, this, along with the fan blowing cool air, is a part of the overall design specifically targeted to reducing motion sickness and increasing overall immersion in the experience.
Steering with the moving handlebars, pedaling, locating the next loop and trying to earn extra points by shooting balloon targets, was a lot to process overall. A slower moving pathway with less check-points would be great for users not as familiar with gaming, VR, and perhaps exercise as well. Physical efforts control the difficulty level and progress of the player’s avatar in VR, so it’s possible to level-up by increasing the strength and rate of peddling the bike.
Speaking with others who used the NordicTrack VR Bike, there were mixed reviews. The concept of gaming and exercise combined with VR was overall very well-received, however after experiencing the demo-itself, there was more hesitation to describe this as an experience ready for consumer roll-out.
As someone who uses VR several times a week, I found there to be a great deal of motion sickness associated with the game. After nearly a minute, that was enough time to call for pulling off the headset and putting my feet firmly back on the ground.
At $2000, the NordicTrack VR Bike is priced above many other stationary bikes available, however it also comes with a HTC Vive Focus and a 1-year iFit Membership. The bike itself was comfortable, and can be used as a regular stationary bike as well.
The VIVE Focus is a result of a partnership between HTC and Qualcomm to provide a stand-alone VR experience. This means there are no wires, and no desktop computer or phone required to power-up the headset. It also supports six degrees of freedom: left, right, up, down, forward, and backward, and a pass-through camera and sensors allow a user to navigate the real world without bumping into physical objects.
NordicTrack plans to open their platform for content development to add value to the overall user experience, and to explore new storytelling and game experience in VR specifically designed for fitness.
There’s no doubt the market for VR, health and entertainment combined is massive. Beat Saber, a rhythm based VR game, has ranked as the highest rated game on Steam last summer, and unexpectantly gained a huge following by gamers looking to lose weight.
This indicates an open landscape for VR content that targets weight loss as a fun and gamified experience. Specifically VR games for stationary machines will greatly augment exercise often associated with boredom. Will we see VR rolling out at gyms in 2019 or 2020? First, there needs to be more content, and multi-player options to add a competitive dynamic between recreational gym-goers, athletes and gamers.
VR games are one way of adding fun and value to health and fitness. Digital art, world-building and MMOs (massive multiplayer online games) will offer an entirely new way of experiencing free-roam exercise like basketball, soccer and swimming when VR headsets are one day available as waterproof goggles.