VirZoom’s stationary bike VR peripheral has been out in the market since June of last year. It’s supposed to provide an effective workout coupled with a VR experience so as to distract from the rigors of exercise. However, the company believed that it could take this concept one step further with a competition. The main goal is to bring so-called “vSports,” or virtual sports, to a national audience. By launching the VirZoom bike in select arcades, gaming centers, and even gyms across the United States, the company wants people to try out the experience and, as a result, earn prizes for their workout. Each performance would be tracked and compared with others across the country as part of VirZoom’s plan to create a nationwide tournament.
I tried the company's own vSports event at CES where multiple journalists used VirZoom along with an HTC Vive to compete against other VirZoom users in multiple VR games. At first I was skeptical, but after a few minutes I could see the appeal of combining exercise with VR.
Prior to the start of the session, we had to get on the VirZoom and wear the Vive head-mounted display (HMD). From there, we had to wait until all of the players were ready to join the game before proceeding. The company prepared three different scenarios to play as a group: virtual cycling, controlling a pegasus, and driving a tank. In addition to using the pedals, I also had to lean left and right to turn and change direction in the games.
I tested the controls in the first scenario--cycling--and it worked like you'd expect. A virtual course was split into multiple sections that had to be cleared before time ran out. Pedaling at different speeds changed the rate of motion within the game, leaning more led to tighter turns, and drafting behind other players offered a small boost in speed.
The tracking might need additional calibration. Turning towards a specific direction (or in this scenario’s case, switching between lanes and drafting behind other players) wasn’t as smooth as it should be. I noticed a small deadzone when leaning left or right, which meant that I had to lean towards one side a bit more than expected to activate the move. The deadzone appeared only in this scenario, however, so it could have been a bug.
Of the three experiences, the strangest one had to be the pegasus demo. I had to keep the mythical animal flying above the forest by making it eat apples that were located at the top of most trees. Numerous jewels dotted the landscape as well, and I had to collect as many jewels as possible to score points. Unlike the cycling demo, however, the pedals didn’t control the pegasus’ speed. Instead, it dictated how high the pegasus was off the ground. If I wanted to quickly reach the top of a tree, I had to pedal hard. Otherwise, I needed to keep a steady pedaling rhythm to prevent the pegasus from touching the ground.
Despite the overall silliness of the fact that I had to control a fictional creature, this particular experience provided an interesting solution for keeping you entertained while working out. A steady pace would ensure that you could keep the pegasus in the air, but if you wanted to beat your friends’ high score, you’d need to pedal harder to reach new heights and grab more points.
The final game in VirZoom’s demo list was the tank warfare level. In it, I controlled a tank on a chaotic battlefield. I had to stay alive and avoid enemy shells, but I also needed to take out as many foes as possible to score points. Similar to the previous two demos, I could turn the tank by leaning left or right. However, I also utilized my head to aim the tank’s main gun. Once I looked at my target, I simply pressed the trigger on the bike’s hand rest to fire the round. I could also control the tank’s speed with the pedals. If there was an enemy closing in on my position, I could pedal faster to get out of their firing range and escape unscathed.
This proved to be the most fun demo of the the three, mainly due to the intensity of tank warfare. With such a large map for the match, it became a pedaling frenzy for the attackers, who wanted to close in on a target, and the defenders, who wanted to escape danger. It was intense to the point that I nearly forgot that I was working out to stay alive in the game. However, cardio and leg-based workout weren’t my forte, and soon my legs began to burn and I started to feel a shortness of breath. I died a few times because my pedaling slowed to a crawl, which made me drop a few places in the group leaderboard at the end of the round.
The small taste of games provided by VirZoom were to show that it was possible to keep you focused on a game while still providing an intense workout, and it worked. Each experience had a simple objective, but I had to push myself to pedal harder on the bike if I wanted to score more points and beat other players. In essence, I needed to work hard and motivate myself to better in order to score more points and beat other players.
Even as VirZoom continues to ship more units, the company received more support from notable fitness companies such as Fitbit, which would track a player’s overall workout as well as heartbeat during a session on the bike. Another company that will support VirZoom is Life Fitness, which already has stationary bike models in gyms across the country. With a module attachment, those bikes will work as VirZoom devices so that you can try the VR experience at your local gym.
The marriage of fitness and VR is a strange idea, but VirZoom managed to convince me that it’s worth a try. In a gym, hundreds of treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes are lined up in front of an army of TVs so you can distract yourself with a TV show while you work out. With VirZoom, however, the experience becomes more interactive. The games provide the same level of distraction from the workout, but it also encourages you to try harder with its game mechanics. VR is here to stay and devices like VirZoom are expanding the medium’s use into everyday activities. Sooner or later, you might see someone at the gym using VR to stay in shape.