If one technology trend has stood above the rest in the last two years, it’s the spread of mixed reality. This is a term that applies to both virtual reality (in which a headset is used to plunge you into a fully animated environment) and augmented reality (in which a device makes it appear as if animations exist in the real world). And over the last two years, various forms of mixed reality have become popular through all kinds of devices, ranging from the high-end HTC Vive headset to the latest Apple and Google phones.
For the most part, mixed reality is being celebrated as a sort of new frontier in gaming. However, there are other uses for mixed reality as well. And if we look closely at the trends that have led to significant mixed reality developments, it becomes clear why we should expect virtual reality workout machines to become popular in the near future. Consider just a few examples.
First we can look at the evolution of first person shooters, which are among the most popular video games. They’re certainly nothing new, having been their own major sub-genre since GoldenEye 007 was released in 1997. But their popularity has been steadily increasing. Occasionally a game will come with the option of a sort of manipulated controller fashioned like a plastic gun. And graphics have naturally improved to make the first person point of view even more realistic. You need only look at the best selling games of 2016 to see that FPS games are essentially ruling the industry. And sure enough, first person shooters have been among the earlier mixed reality experiments.A subtler evolution in gaming (and perhaps a better look at why workout machines are around the corner) has taken place in the casino entertainment industry. When this business first started online the games were crude and arcade-like. Over time they’ve become more interactive and more realistic, to the point that they now include “live” games that, via video feeds, are hosted by professional and expertly trained dealers. You could almost make the argument that this is virtual reality, insofar as it can exist with nothing but a computer or mobile screen.
As a final point to illustrate how something like a workout machine can appear to be on the way, we’ll also mention how there have been clear trends in areas outside of gaming. Specifically, home design apps have been among the biggest early hits in augmented reality, allowing people to visualize new furnishings in a sort of simulated reality. This isn’t entirely new however. Various home search websites and even individual apartment complex websites have long allowed people to manipulate furnishings online, visualizing different options and planning layouts. It was actually an extremely natural transition to augmented reality.
So, what do all of these examples show us? Collectively, they demonstrate that we tend to see mixed reality advances in areas in which companies and developers were already pushing toward more realistic simulations. Mixed reality is not a new conceptual development; it’s just new technology enabling people to push through a boundary they’ve long been pressed up against.
Regarding exercise, can we not say that we’ve been pushing slowly but surely up against mixed reality and similar concepts for some time now? The first example that comes to mind is cinema rooms in gyms. These don’t actually simulate any kind of alternate reality, but they do put films in front of cyclists and elliptical users purely as a means of mental distraction and in-workout entertainment. Another example is the famous Zombies, Run! app, which uses a kind of audio-only VR to incentivize users to run harder and farther. And perhaps most significantly we can look at newer workout equipment, such as the Peloton bike, which actually comes with a large screen that provides a feed to classes and trainers. This directly calls to mind the “live casino” concept of streaming a live dealer to make gaming more realistic.
With developments and trends like these, we should fully expect that mixed reality systems will partner with exercise equipment makers to unleash a whole new wave of VR bikes, ellipticals, and possibly even climbing machines. There have already been a few early demos that can turn normal bikes into VR workout machines, and some apps are beginning to go mainstream. But just as Peloton has become a whole business based essentially on the idea of releasing a bike machine with a screen attached to it, we should expect a whole new category of VR-infused workout machines in the near future.