Thanks to some impressive new technology on the market, virtual reality (VR) is gaining popularity fast. Samsung's Gear VR offers a virtual reality experience at a very affordable price to owners of Galaxy smartphones. While some of the potential uses of virtual reality have yet to be explored, Aaron Puzey has figured out a way to combine VR with exercise.
Puzey plans to cycle across the UK while in the comfort of his own home via the Gear VR headset. The path he is taking starts at Land's End, and will go to John O'Groats. He is using a stationary bicycle that he has modified to interact with the headset by adding a Bluetooth cadence monitor to make it recognize and respond to the movement of the bicycle. Fortunately, the mapping data already exists thanks to Google Maps Street View, however, Puzey had to tweak it a bit to make it work the way he wanted it to. To describe how it works, Puzey says "some quick research revealed a method of extracting this [mapping] information and building up a 3d scene. It was then a simple matter of moving the camera through space as I pedal." As he cycles, he moves along a virtual road and employs the use of 360-degree head tracking to increase the sense of realism. The experience seems to be slightly disorienting, however, Puzey points out that, surprisingly enough, he actually feels less affected by motion sickness than when using VR in a stationary position. One of the factors that may have helped reduce motion sickness is the white boxes he has included to represent the position from which each Street View photo was taken, which gives him some idea of when to expect the view to change, helping him adjust to the changes more naturally.
While some of the imagery looks a quite a bit distorted, as Google Maps Street View images often can, the effect still seems very immersive. Puzey hopes to be the first person to cycle across the UK in virtual reality, and perhaps even "the first person to cycle any great distance in VR." He started his journey in May and is somewhere around the halfway point at the time of this writing. As technology continues to shift focus toward both VR and fitness, this is a great example of how the two can work together, and it offers certain advantages over cycling in the traditional manner, such as the ability to cycle while avoiding unpleasant weather and without concern for traffic. It will be interesting to see if ideas like this one will push companies involved with VR to make similar experiences available commercially, perhaps even integrating with fitness equipment directly. To find out more about Puzey's journey and the technology and the technology behind it, check out the video below.