Gamification of Fitness — VR Is Transforming Our Exercise Routines

By Yisela Alvarez Trentini Friday, October 30, 2020

As the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies becomes more widespread, with virtual reality (VR) making successful cases for remote education, psychotherapy, healthcare, and professional training, the fitness industry could see a boom of new devices and services. These include indoor VR bikes, dancing platforms, and revolutionary full-body controllers that promise to take the market by storm in the years to come.

VR headsets are also becoming lighter and more affordable. The Oculus Quest 2, launching on October 13, offers all-in-one gaming and entertainment for just $300. Companies like Facebook and Panasonic are also working on holographic optics that could turn VR sets into thin, light devices that will look like a pair of sunglasses.

The global augmented reality (AR) and VR markets have an estimated worth of $18.8 million in 2020. Although the adoption rate for AR/VR devices is relatively low when compared to other electronic products, many companies have allocated significant research and development (R&D) budgets to develop the technology. Microsoft, for example, owns over 10,000 AR/VR patents across thousands of patent families.

One of VR’s most anticipated products has just announced it might make it to homes across the world as early as mid-2021. The Virtuix Omni One is more than a gamer’s dream in the shape of a full-body controller. It’s also a product that could forever change how we see the VR fitness industry and have a deep impact on the market as a whole. And it’s not the only device that promises to gamify fitness.

Virtuix Omni One

The Omni One is Virtuix’s elaborate full-body controller. Backed by Mark Cuban and other major investors, the Omni One is set to become the first omnidirectional treadmill that lets users walk and run in 360 degrees.

A similar system has been recently portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One movie: A treadmill that offers incredible flexibility for movement inside video games and other virtual worlds. This includes walking, crouching, running, strafing, and jumping — all allowed by a pair of low friction shoes and a harness.

The Omni one will launch in mid-2021 and come with a standalone no-cables VR set and online game store with over 30 top games developed by Virtuix and third-party studios. The device is more compact than its predecessors (which have been around since 2013), using a single vertical bar instead of a ring around the whole treadmill and making the machine particularly easy to fold and store.

Virtuix is launching the product with a call to all investors and a tempting early bird bonus. Those that invest $1,000 will get a discount of up to 40% when buying Omni One — that’s worth approximately $800 (the new model of the treadmill will cost around $1,990). The company has already sold over $10 million worth of product and shipped 3,500 Omni Pro systems to 45 countries, achieving an impressive 9.3/10 overall satisfaction rating.

VZ Fit Biking

VZ Fit is an indoor biking VR product developed by Virzoom, a company that transforms a stationary bike into virtual activities using VR headsets and smart bike sensors. Starting in 2017, their first steps included a turnkey VR kiosk and wireless sensors for gyms to use with their own bikes.

With a team experienced in AAA game design and robotics behind it, the platform now allows users to steer, pedal, and interact using their bodies, pedals, and thumbs. The available activities range from cycling to commanding tanks, piloting helicopters, and even flying a Pegasus horse.

In a recent study conducted with participants using the VZ Fit to cycle in VR, both the enjoyment perception and exercise performance were increased compared to a control group riding traditional exercise bikes. The users in VR explained they were more distracted from the pain and exertion felt when exercising due to the virtual environments around them.

The company considers stationary bikes as the ideal VR exercise because it offers an intuitive and safe way to move and doesn't require too much space or money to set up. The system is compatible with games made for Oculus Go & Quest on any bike at home, the gym, or the office.

VR and Fitness: What’s to Come

Virtuix has described its Omni One treadmill as something like a Peloton bike for gamers. The technology could possibly do the inverse as well: Provide “traditional” exercise enthusiasts with unparalleled entertainment while they work out.

Several studies have shown a correlation between the use of virtual reality and a more positive psychological response. Immersive environments, in particular, have been used as tools for a variety of therapeutic treatments as they offer experiences that are more controlled, practical, and generally inexpensive.

One of the main advantages of gamifying exercise through the use of VR is that it can provide users with activities that are both engaging and distracting from the pain of physical effort. Successes like Beat Saber, for example, have demonstrated that playing a game and exercising to the point of exhaustion can actually become indistinguishable. Several newer titles like Kongfusion, X-Booster, and the recently launched Move it Up are rhythm games that result in incredibly intense workouts.

As we still battle with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of new lockdowns, VR fitness promises not only to bring fun to strenuous exercise — but also to share the experience with others remotely, competing for the highest scores by reaching record-breaking levels of cardio.

About the Author

Headshot of Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Yisela Alvarez Trentini is an Anthropologist + User Experience / Human-Computer Interaction Designer with an interest in emerging technologies, social robotics, and VR/AR.

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