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External Sports and Fitness Equipment for Use with Your VR Goggles

One of the main things that separates humans from our brutish friends that we share the planet with – apart from opposable thumbs, obviously – is our ability to imagine what could be. It’s rare for humans to not see the possibilities in something new, and to take advantage of them. Our brains are gigantic – over seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies – which increases the number of neurons firing and allows us to imagine beyond the mundane. And how we dream..!  

Take, for instance, the development of VR. In this we have a technological device that is capable of taking us to fantastic new worlds and situations, but has been devised as a fairly visual-based product. Sure, you can move around, play tennis, and get shot, but none of these really feel immersive. But all it takes is for others to dream and to see potential and develop products that take the concept of VR further. There are now a growing number of products on the market that enhance VR use, and take the whole concept to a new level. With a growing number of external devices on the market, here’s our guide to the best currently available.

Biking/rowing. VR offers plenty of apps that can simulate travel, but partner these with a static bike and then you’re really travelling. The Holofit app is pretty good fun if you just have an area on your floor, but use it with a static bike, rowing machine, or a cross-trainer, and you are really going places – virtually. Holofit is designed to work with ANT device to which it connects by bluetooth to the cadence sensor, so that it knows how fast the working parts are moving. The app itself offers a huge library of realistic environments and the latest version of the app is available on the Meta Quest 1 and 2, and on the Pico Neo 3 too. In terms of cost, if you have one of the compatible headsets, Holofit is available for either a small monthly cost – currently £8.99 – or a yearly payment of (currently) £82. With static bikes and rowing machines available from all the usual online sites and stores, you can be virtually cycling or rowing the world for as little as under £250.

Treadmills and movement machines. While VR apps have grown to become a part of existing sports equipment, the rise of VR has also spawned specialist equipment that has been developed to make the most of the virtual world. One of the best examples of this is the Omni by Virtuix. Billed as an omni-directional movement machine, the moving base allows the firmly tethered user to literally walk and run in any direction while in their chosen virtual world. The product is currently in beta phase and is being delivered to developers, and is expected to actually hit the market either later this year or early next year, and is unlikely to be cheap. The KAT Walk C2 is a similar though undeniably a lower-spec product and already commercially available for around $1,300 – no UK price is currently given – making it quite an exciting option. It can be used with a range of VR headsets and apps, and allows for full 360° movement. Also in this class of exercise and running machine is the Cyberith ‘Virtualizer’, which is also in developmental phase and is only currently shipping to developers. While these products are only just coming on the market and are mostly aimed at real locomotion in VR gaming, they are likely to become increasingly popular in the world of fitness too.

Hand-held Sports Equipment. The VR revolution is also being catered for at the lower end of the market too, with a growing number of devices that enhance the virtual experience. Amongst the main devices are the VR Golf Club, the tennis extension handles, and the virtual fishing rod with workable reel. All of these come in at under £50 and are guaranteed to enhance your experience in the respective VR apps. 

Training machines. If you have ever wanted to really experience the thrill of flying then a training machine, such as the ICAROS can give you just that while subtly training your muscles – though the eye-watering £13,999 price tag for the Pro version will deter many. Fully mechanically operated, the ICAROS system functions by holding your body, which in turn tilts the device forward and backward. Meanwhile, the gyroscopic central piece rolls you from side to side, which allows you to control your in-game movements while also providing you with a workout. This adjustable resistance system included in the middle slide makes the already demanding workout that much more difficult. After that, sensors will relay your movements to the environment of the virtual reality game. As a result, you are not only visually connected to the virtual world but also physically attached to it. The result of this is that ICAROS blends elements of gaming with features of fitness, which stimulates both your body and your mind in one go.

Haptics. Of course, the VR experience is being touted as better than reality, but there is little point to that unless there is some kind of feedback. While VR can impart a feeling of being in another world and creating engaging experiences, these are based on sight and sound, and without some kind of feeling, then the illusion is incomplete. Therefore the feedback has been introduced, which aims to enhance the VR experience. The application of pressure, vibrations, or motions to the body of the user is some of the ways that haptics, a type of technology, can simulate the feeling of touch. These technologies can be utilised in a computer simulation to produce virtual objects, to manipulate virtual objects, and to improve remote control of machinery and devices such as telerobotics. Tactile sensors, which determine the amount of pressure a user applies to an interface, are sometimes included in haptic devices.

Mechanoreceptors are responsible for the human skin’s ability to sense mechanical loading. Many different kinds of mechanoreceptors exist, but those in the finger pad are commonly divided into two groups. Two types of actions are described: fast and slow. In contrast to FA mechanoreceptors, which are sensitive to low frequencies and moderate strains, SA mechanoreceptors are more sensitive to high frequencies and small stresses. As a result, SA sensors are able to pick up textures with amplitudes greater than 200 micrometres, while FA sensors can do the same down to about 1 micrometre. By picking up on vibrations brought on by friction and the interplay of the fingerprint texture as it moves over fine surface texture, FA mechanoreceptors are able to attain such a high resolution of sensing. The result is convincing body blows and strikes.

There is a huge range of haptic suits on the market ranging from the Bhaptics Tactsuit X16, which currently retails for around £350, to the impressive and full-body Teslasuit which retails at around £2,000 for a top-end version. Haptics have also become an important factor in other areas too; Virtual reality gloves are the natural progression towards total submersion in a simulated environment. While completely involved in their games, players can interact with buttons, examine weaponry, open containers, and do much more. Not only will we be able to feel the environment around us, but we will be able to convincingly touch and hold things too.

If VR wasn’t exciting and impressive enough anyway, the range of external equipment that is available – and with a catalogue that is growing almost daily – will make immersion so much better. Pretty soon, you will be able to go to a gym in the Metaverse and have a full and tiring workout without having to leave your play space.