Fit Immersion: New Kid on the VR Block

While combining virtual reality and fitness is no longer a novel concept, one company is showing us that there are still things that can be done a little differently.

Few people will deny that riding an exercise bike or pounding a treadmill is a pretty boring activity. Even so, it’s not always practical to run alongside an unlit country road after sunset, or go cycling in a downpour, so these instruments of physical and mental torture continue to have their uses.

Everyone knows that some judicious psychic stimulation can help a workout go more smoothly, from counting reps down instead of up to the hideous electronic music every gym manager in the world seems to be in love with. The problem until recently has been the lack of an immersive option that can simulate the real-world experience, though virtual reality is rapidly changing this. It is just that much easier to scrape up the motivation to fit in a gym visit after a long day if you know that the workout is likely to be fun and interesting.

Fit Immersion‘s products have much of the gaming aspects of VR stripped away: there’s no way to steer nor any obstacles to jump over. One interesting design decision the company made is to build their application for smartphones rather than a more specialized – or even dedicated – platform, which certainly helps to keep the cost within reason. It also happens to make the system easy to carry around, which certainly increases its appeal to frequent travelers. Being easy to set up, there’s no reason not to take it to whichever gym you might be able to visit. In fact, they even offer an Android version intended for use without a true VR headset. This may require a little more imagination on the user’s part, but the mobile device is mounted within a comfortable, location-aware helmet, giving a credible virtual reality experience. Additionally, unlike with competitors such as VirZoom, any stationary bike can be hooked up to the speed sensor.

To be fair, the various companies offering virtual reality cycling experiences are devoting their efforts to different market segments: Widerun seems to focus on enthusiastic cyclists (or at least those people who own a bicycle with wheels), VirZoom combines an immersive gaming experience with a decent workout element, while Fit Immersive wants to bring a decently priced, no-frills VR option to the market, suitable either for connecting to the elliptical trainer in your basement or being used at your local gym.

Fit Immersive offers their own headsets instead of requiring their users to pay for an Oculus Rift or similar. In terms of physical design and comfort, this company scores points by having realized that sweat and wearable electronics often aren’t the best of friends, so their headsets are well-ventilated and easy to keep clean. A real lack in the product, however, is that it only measures rotational speed and the user’s heart rate, and neither senses nor adjusts the level of resistance.This may be fine if all you’re after is elevating your pulse, but it can be a little jarring to apparently start going uphill without feeling it.

Any of these products offer the ability to race other players and explore worlds either recorded along trails in the real world or generated as a CGI fantasy. All of them allow you to log your performance and track improvements in your fitness, and all of them can be expected to add new VR content as fast as it can be filmed or rendered. In all honesty, every one of them is also a great deal of fun: if you are considering purchasing one, you would be well advised to examine the benefits of each before investing in one. Unfortunately, you might have to wait a while before finding a Fit Immersive headset at your closest retailer: they are currently looking for € 25,000 in Kickstarter funding for their innovative product.