At E3 this week, VirZOOM introduced VZ Sensor, a small, Bluetooth-enabled gadget that can attach to any stationary bike, turning it into a peripheral for VR-specific gaming in conjunction with an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Samsung Gear VR.
We’ve written several times about VirZOOM since its debut at CES a couple years ago, including during CES this year. The company makes a VR bicycle, by which we mean a stationary bicycle you’re meant to ride while playing video games built specifically with the bike peripheral in mind. From experience, we can tell you that you’ll find yourself quickly in a state of exercise without having realized it, much like a child discovering that the applesauce has been spiked with a crushed-up aspirin.
What you’re doing is playing a game and locomoting using the bike. The ViRZOOM bike is outfitted with sensors that can tell how fast you’re pedaling and map that into the game. The handles on the bike’s handlebars are game controllers.
As a specialized exercise bike, it’s not grossly expensive at $399, and it's built to withstand the leaning you absentmindedly do while playing these VR games. Still, that's practically the cost of the VR HMD. We're unsure how many of these devices the company has sold, but the fact that there are only seven games (there were three back when we first tried it) means that it’s likely been a bit of a struggle to build up developer interest.
VZ Sense, at $99, could tempt those for whom $399 seems untemptable. If you don’t have a stationary bike already, there’s likely to be one at your gym. (You do go to a gym, don’t you?) We’ll admit that we don’t see ourselves strapping on a Gear VR while on an exercise bike in a public place, but if we were so inclined, it would certainly help pass the time.
The VZ Sense does everything the VirZOOM bike can do, in that it measures your speed and distance. It pairs with a smartphone if you’re using the Samsung Gear VR, or a Bluetooth dongle if you’re connecting to a PC. Directional tracking takes advantage of the HMD sensors.
The only thing you’ll miss out on is the controllers on the handlebars of the full bike, which were handy. Instead, you’ll have to use the controller you’d use with your VR system. The company is in the pilot phase with Life Fitness in a variety of gyms, so we'll certainly find out soon if people will truly do this in a public setting. The work VirZOOM is doing with Life Fitness also requires repurposing the resistance functions of the exercise bicycles so that those mechanisms tie into the action of a game--say, if the game takes you up a hill, the pedaling will get more difficult, and so on.
The company plans to take orders starting now on its own site and will be shipping them around the September time frame. The $99 device (available for $89 as a pre-order) comes with all seven games, which work on the Rift, Vive, and Gear VR. Notably, the company will announce support for Google Daydream next month. VZ Sense runs on a simple 2032 Lithium coin battery and should last up to three months, assuming 30 minutes of daily use.