For Aaron Puzey it was too boring to just sit at home on his exercise bike. As he is a game developer, he thought of an idea to make the monotonous workout more fun and exciting, without having to deal with bad weather, scary traffic or bugs flying into his mouth. His mission: cycling through Britain in VR.
Puzey wants to cycle from South to North, covering a distance of 1.347 km. For that purpose he developed an app that uses visuals derived from Google Street View as a source. Furthermore, he connected a Bluetooth cadence monitor to his exercise bike that measures RPM (revolutions per minute). This allows him now to strap on his mobile HMD (a Samsung Gear VR) and experience the beauty of Britain during his daily cycling workout, as the data is sent from the cadence monitor to the Gear VR.
He has started his virtual cycling trip in the beginning of May when he left Lands End. By now, he has already passed Manchester and has experienced a lot. His diary entries are worth a read, as are his videos, in which he shares his experiences as well as problems. One of them being the topic of quality issues, such as latency, inaccuracy or depth of information, that can lead to cybersickness. “The single biggest problem with the Street View data is the high compression on the depth information.” As it can be seen in his video summary for km 0 – 100, right in the beginning of his trip he cycles straight into a building. Another learning experience was how he has to tackle roundabouts, as he has to manage them about 5 meters ahead. However, Puzey says that he still experiences a certain level of presence while cycling through Britain in VR. Up to John o’Groats there are still a few kms left. So you can check out Puzey’s blog and follow him along his way.
Cycling through Britain in VR: 0 – 100 km
Nevertheless, the idea of combining VR and fitness is not new. There are already some companies working on different applications, such as VirZOOM or Holodia VR who aim at putting the fun back to indoor fitness: “Wouldn’t you rather row and bike in inaccessible and exceptional real world landmarks, challenge friends or discover new imaginary worlds?” Whereas tethered VR solutions provide better quality in terms of resolution and fidelity and therefore allow a higher level of immersion, the cables could be a problem in doing sports. Furthermore, wearing a HMD will probably lead to increased sweating during exercising.
But back to Puzey and his VR cycling tour. He told The Verge that he considers taking a virtual trip to Japan, as using Street View allows him to visit pretty much any place he would like to. This demonstrates how “easy” it can be to travel the world virtually. The combination of fitness elements with other ones, such as tourism or pilgrimage, allow new opportunities. Imagine the possibility to walk along the Camino de Santiago in Spain in VR. One could master a few kilometers on a step machine everyday, discovering the walking route without actually leaving the house. How the spiritual experience of this might be remains unknown at this point – but it would be a possibility and likely desirable by many that would otherwise not be able to experience this.
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