VR has been a huge disappointment to date given its potential to transport us into new worlds and even more powerful experiences. Right now, the best experiences are in arcades like the The Void arcade in Las Vegas. I’ve tried both the Star Wars: Secrets of The Empire game and the Ralph Breaks VR game (Star Wars is better) and the experience is realistic, the graphics are really good, and the game is immersive. The Star Wars game got me so focused I almost threw my blaster at Darth Vader when it was clear my shooting him wasn’t working and he was about to trim my head from my neck (I kind of wonder how many people actually do throw their rifle at him).
Another area getting some uplift is exercise and this could make a dramatic difference for gyms. Black Box just opened the first VR Gym in San Francisco and the related video looks really compelling. With sensors for the hands and integration with the weight and other exercise equipment that makes I look like you are in the action while you work your muscles.
Let’s talk about VR exercise this week.
Losing Yourself In The Game
Part of the problem with working out is that it can be rather boring. Running on a treadmill or a bike in a room with others while reading a book and/or listening to music is how I typically do it, but it is hard to stay focused on the book when your legs want to call it a day. The weight equipment is worse it is just rep after rep with really nothing but music to provide a distraction from your screaming muscles and that little voice in your head telling you that last rep was likely enough for today.
But if you play competitive sports you know you can push yourself beyond your typical limits and focus on the game while taking your mind off your complaining body. Instrumenting the body has been problematic but we have made some progress as you can see from this video on VR treadmills. If those shown, infinadeck appears to have the most promise primarily because it actually has an omni-directional treadmill, but It will likely be wicked expensive.
This takes us to what Black Box has created which is a relatively stationary VR experience with weights and hand tracking so you can enter into VR combat both with weapons and hand to hand in order to carry through your workout. Scoring and competition should keep you focused on the accomplishments and not on your screaming muscles and the workouts should, because you are engaged, seem to go very quickly.
Because of the prohibitive cost of the gear doing this in a Gym makes more sense because that cost can be spread across multiple members.
The Elements Of Success
To make this work the headsets have to be integrated into the experience, you need to have the hands instrumented and the equipment must feel and work like the weapons it is emulating. Ideally you should have force feedback both in your hands (which is still being worked and not final), in the equipment (which is rather uneven at the moment), and the result must be seamlessly integrated into the experience.
In addition, setup and take down need to be quick and easy, the headset will need to hold up in a gym environment and easily wiped off, and the related games must be engaging and compelling. Much of this still has to be created making these initial attempts short of the ideal.
So, while the Black Box effort is interesting and will certainly result in people going to that Gym, the technology isn’t yet where it needs to be, but it is getting close enough we should see more viable solutions within 5 years.
VR has made a great deal of progress, but it still is falling short of a complete solution. The closest things we have are arcade efforts like those demonstrated in the well-done Sony Void arcades. This should allow this technology into Gyms within 5 years with acceptable drawbacks and in high end homes starting shortly thereafter. Mainstream home solutions are still about 7-10 years out but, when they get there, it’ll likely change more than how we work out but include new ways to interact with friends and family remotely.
While improvements to VR appear to be proceeding slowly, they are happening across a very wide field from commercial, to consumer, to arcade, and Gym. Collectively we should get to a critical mass in a couple short years and, assuming we get good content, then we should see this market finally go vertical.