VR Fitness Insider Podcast – Episode 11: ICAROS

Welcome to the latest episode of the VR Fitness Insider Podcast! Today, we're thrilled to have Johannes Scholl on the show, who is the co-founder and CEO of ICAROS, an innovative virtual reality exercise system that combines immersive gaming experiences with physical fitness. Johannes and his team have been pushing the boundaries of VR fitness, introducing a unique approach to working out that has captured the attention of fitness enthusiasts and tech lovers alike. We can't wait for Johannes to share his insights and the story behind ICAROS with you.

Welcome to the latest episode of the VR Fitness Insider Podcast!

Today, we’re thrilled to have Johannes Scholl on the show, who is the co-founder and CEO of ICAROS, an innovative virtual reality exercise system that combines immersive gaming experiences with physical fitness. Johannes and his team have been pushing the boundaries of VR fitness, introducing a unique approach to working out that has captured the attention of fitness enthusiasts and tech lovers alike. We can’t wait for Johannes to share his insights and the story behind ICAROS with you.

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Episode 11 – ICAROS

Preston Lewis: [00:00:00] Welcome to the VR Fitness Insiders podcast, for the creators who are building the future of the VR and AR sports and fitness industries that will revolutionize the way the world will play sports, work out and get fit. With your hosts, preston Lewis and Ryan DeLuca, the founders of Black Box VR, who are building the world’s first full fitness VR gym and bring decades of experience from creating some of the largest fitness technology companies in the world. They’re bringing together the best and brightest minds to help you and your company succeed in the VR fitness revolution.

Welcome to the VR Fitness Insider podcast. Today we have Johannes Scholl on the show who’s the co-founder and CEO of ICAROS. With a mission to empower individuals to achieve their health and fitness goals through the use of cutting edge technology and immersive gaming experiences. Johannes, thanks so much for being here with us.

Johannes Scholl: Thank you for having me, and I look forward to this conversation with you guys.

Preston Lewis: So to kick it off, we wanna know what got you into VR and fitness in the first place? Kind of how did your [00:01:00] personal interests lead you here?

Johannes Scholl: So as you can imagine, it’s quite of a long story, but I’ll try to make a long story short. I studied industrial design. So did my co-founder. And when I was still at university, I always knew that once I would start working on my master’s thesis, it should be something around fitness. And that was also around the time when I met my co-founder Michael, who was already running a design agency down in Munich.

And I was working with him and I’ve told him about my idea and I said, “hey, you know what? I want to do something innovative. I want to do something special around fitness.” And he said, “that’s cool, I would like to support you here, but let’s not bring the bench press 2.0 or something. Let’s bring something really innovative, that the fitness industry hasn’t seen before.” He’s into fitness, we’re both into industrial design, and we said, “okay, what’s the most motivating fitness experience that we could think of?”

And we said, ” how would it be if we could create the sensation of flying [00:02:00] whilst doing your workout?” Because we figured that being able to fly is a mankind’s dream, no matter where on the planet. Like, everybody has dreamt of this once, right? So we came up with this first concept and the fun thing really is this all took place before virtual reality was a thing. It was before Oculus. It was before Oculus first Kickstarter campaign. Still we had the idea that if this should work, it could only work with virtual reality, right? So in the end, what we created back then was the future concept of what we thought how fitness exercise could look in twenty five years from now.

Little did we know that just a couple months later, virtual reality did became a thing, and t hat’s where the entire story started really.

Ryan DeLuca: So many people when they first think of like, “oh, what could you do with, like, you know, gaming and fitness?” And the first thing is, like, really, really basic stuff. Like, “oh, you could be having a personal trainer, or you could do this stuff you used to do in a normal gym, but now in a game or in VR.” Which just feels like the least [00:03:00] creative way to do it. Like, this is this whole new way to do things. Why would you wanna do bench press 2.0? Like, nobody wants to bench press. You know? Even people that say they like bench pressing, they probably don’t really love it that much compared to other things. Why would you wanna do that versus, like, exciting game and flying in VR?

Johannes Scholl: The thing was we wanted to create an entire experience and I think that sounds familiar to you. And when we started, we had this complete freedom of ideas, you know? We were thinking so freely, because there was no pressure on us. We didn’t think of it as a business in the very first place. Because as I said, we were thinking like this is going to happen in twenty years from now. The fun thing really is when the first headsets came out, especially the commercially available headsets. For example, the Samsung Gear VR. If you remember? Where you did put your smartphone in, and then you would have it as a VR screen. Samsung was one of our very first customers. They bought a couple of ICAROS units to set them up in their pop-up stores that they were opening all across Europe to demo their new technology.

I guess one of the first [00:04:00] peripherals for virtual reality that you could get. So they equipped all of the pop-up stores with our machines to demo their own technology. And that was great. And that’s also why I preach that timing is such an important factor when you launch a new product, launch a new idea. And we stood at the station before the hype train arrived and we just had to jump onto it, and that really helped us very much to get going.

Preston Lewis: That’s super cool. And you kinda alluded to it, the flying, right? But tell us about your product. What exactly is ICAROS? What’s the experience like? What makes it special and why’d you decide to create it this way?

Johannes Scholl: It became a bit harder to explain in the last couple of years, because of course our portfolio has grown and we now have a range of products. I guess the one where everything started with, and still the experience that we are most well known for, is the combination of a core workout and a virtual reality flying experience.

So let me start with that. And basically, it is a rig that you would enter in a plank-like position. But you [00:05:00] would not just lay on there, but you’ll be able to move around, truly, and by shifting your body weight forwards and backwards and to the left and right, you are able to maneuver that thing. And we are detecting your motions on the device with motion sensors. And in the end, we are transferring your motions on the device into virtual reality gameplay.

So it would become, say a Superman simulator, whatever you are doing physically on the device you’re doing in virtual reality. And it gives you a quite intense core workout, quite intense shoulder workout. But it will not only improve, like, your muscle strength, but it will also improve your sense for balance. Your coordination, your reaction, functionality of your core. So really, it’s about say, mind-muscle connection. That’s why it’s also used in therapy and stuff like that. Maybe we speak more about that later. So you are in that planking position wearing your headset, with your motions on the device. You’re controlling the gameplay. Most of it is about flying, but it doesn’t necessarily has to be flying; there’s also [00:06:00] underwater experiences, stuff like that.

I think for me the most impressive ones, one is our virtual reality multiplayer. It’s called ICARACE. So that is a futuristic racing game where you would fly a spaceship and you would race other pilots, as we call them, from maybe even other countries, other parts in the world, live in virtual reality. And that is a very intense experience. And those races, they last for ten minutes, right about, and it’s a tough one. Once a year we have world championships where we invite the best pilots that have qualified in the online pre-season, and then we put them on stage, let them race each other.

And then another one, which I believe is very impressive. We started working on these kind of experiences two years ago, right about. We have a cooperation with another company here from Munich, they’re called Reality Maps. They provided us with landscape data that they create using photogrammetry. And for example, we have now digitalized some of [00:07:00] the most iconic sceneries in the Alps. Like we have the Dolomites, or we have parts of the Swiss Alps or the German Alps. And you can really go through those kind of landscapes. We have a Wingsuit simulator in there, racetracks, all this fun stuff.

And you can experience this in real places. Just like Google Earth, but on a higher quality level. There’s a lot more, but that’s kind of what’s going on in virtual reality when you are one of the ICAROS devices.

Ryan DeLuca: Well, we talked about where your product is today, and of course, continuing to work and make it even better, but it’s such an exciting thing. Obviously you didn’t start there, when you first started with the first version to today. What type of learnings did you have from the beginning, that if you could go back to yourself back in those days, you would tell yourself?

Johannes Scholl: Many, many different ones. But, let me try with some of the most important ones for me.

So first, as I said, my co-founder and I we’re both industrial designers. We are both creative minds, which is a good thing and also a bad thing. What I always try is, I try to visualize ideas very early, and then we also try to [00:08:00] prototype ideas as soon as possible to be able to test them. And so, walk the walk, right? Whatever you visualize might turn into a reality at one point, it may not, but if you do not visualize it, if you do not build, it will not happen at all. So that’s for sure.

When we started off first, and I think that was also with many other players in the field of virtual reality, especially. Nobody really knew where it would be going, where it was heading. From our DNA, we knew that we wanted to combine fitness and gaming.

With the first games we built, we didn’t have any experience. We didn’t have any user feedback. So I mean, it’s important to know who is the user, who’s the customer? Who’s the user. Sometimes that is the same person. Sometimes it’s not the same person, and you will have a customer and you will have an end user.

What do they expect from you? It’s that small line between getting user feedback, implementing user feedback, and listening to the users. And sometimes also not to listen to them and do your own thing, because maybe you know [00:09:00] better and you know what’s ahead, you know, you’re one step ahead of them.

So I think that’s a fine line between implementing user feedback and, at the same time, be true to yourself, because who came up with that concept? You did. So believe in yourself as well. However, it really comes down to what I believe product market fit. That’s for sure. You can have the fanciest ideas, if the product will not work in the designated environment, you will not have a business. Right? I think that was something, especially in the first two, three years or so, where we also had to learn a lot. Like, who is the customer? Who are we building it for? In what way is it going to be used? Where will it be most beneficial? Where will it really make a difference?

How can we solve the problems that our customer has and stuff like that. That is very common, but still it’s something that you have to learn at the beginning. And the other thing, I think that you know very well, because you did do this very well when you started, and I also think that we didn’t do the worst job here, was being loud. And being [00:10:00] recognized and being, like, all over the place. And that’s something where I think we also did a good job. So when you start something new, you have to be, you have to be loud, right? Go for the awards, go for the trade shows, go for the media, go for the bloggers, go for social media, go for… take whatever you can take to make sure that people will take notice.

I remember when we first went to CES, we were down in the Sands Expo at Eureka Park. And back then it was, you had those ten by ten booths. Super small, like startup zoo, kind of, super vibrant atmosphere, very crowded. And we brought the ICAROS device, the first pro device for the very first time. And the booth was packed, and we had press, and media, and lots of stuff was going on. For us, it was a great experience. The first show in the US, and all of this buzz going on. And we took a lot out of it.

However, one year later we went to the same place, Eureka Park, same ten by ten booths. And the only difference was that this time we had [00:11:00] a proper video on YouTube and on social media, like Facebook, back then it was. And it changed everything. This time we had, within one week, we had more than thirty million views on our video. And it got viral and it was Mashable, and Bored Panda, and USA Today, and you name it. It was the same product, was the same show, same people. The only difference was that our preparations were a lot better this time. Then also you got luck and timing and stuff like that. That’s also learning. You have to be loud, you have to be present, but you also need to be prepared to make something out of it. But ultimately, this story also has a downside, because that was, I believe, 2017? And I mean, what does CES stand for? It stands for Consumer Electronic Show.

Electronics, yes. Show, yes. Consumer, no. We only had this large ICAROS promo that you would buy for nine thousand back then. So, we received, I don’t know, seven, eight thousand emails, and we [00:12:00] were three people. And we were doing night shifts just to answer those emails. And you can imagine that ninety percent of those requests were, like, “okay, can I get this for my living room?”

And we’re like, “well, yes you can, but it’s ten grand.” So, it really helped us to drive substantial business back then. Still nowadays with all, we have the consumer range in line, and the online shop and everything. So if you would have the same thirty million video views and seven thousand emails, we could make a lot more out of it. But that’s kind of the stories you can tell later.

Preston Lewis: For better or for worse, as pioneers, we’re paying the innovation tax, right?

Someone’s gotta do it, gotta go out there and blaze the trail. And so we’re really appreciative to others that do that. You guys included, because when we started Black Box in 2016, we would say the term “VR fitness”, and their eyes would glaze over and they’d be super confused. They didn’t understand. And so just because ICAROS, and probably Virtuix and a lot of these people have been in the game so long with these viral videos, and [00:13:00] taking the risks. It’s obviously been expensive initially, but it’s pushed the entire industry forward.

So, definitely cool that you guys did that.

Johannes Scholl: I briefly mentioned earlier, I think that was before the camera was rolling. We just got back from FIBO in Cologne a couple weeks ago. I mean, that’s one of the biggest fitness and body building shows in the world. This year they had a designated area for XR gaming, virtual reality, eSports fitness. Five years ago, unthinkable. Unthinkable. And now you can see that. I think that’s very cool. It’s great that the organizers recognize the potential and also that they do something out of it. And now you can really feel the support of the industry and also the acceptance on the other side, which is just as important. You cannot only just push technology and then wait for it. That’s not how it works. So you need the acceptance too. We know that there is potential in using virtual reality or gamification in general in fitness. The workouts are more desirable, you can make them more effective.

You can really make them addictive, like an eSports experience. In a good way.

Preston Lewis: [00:14:00] You just made me think that, you could almost have, a triathlon-style event. Kinda like you have with biking, swimming, running, where it could be, Black Box workout, ICAROS flying, a Virtuix running experience. Where you could actually do this, triathlon, multi-event type of an experience. But with this futuristic technology.

Johannes Scholl: I totally see this and we should talk about this, because I know that many people out there would love being a part of this. I think that’s also a vision, like having those XR Olympics thing, kind of, going on.

Ryan DeLuca: It’s way more exciting. There’s so many things you can do in these crazy fantasy worlds you couldn’t do in a real-life triathlon. And more accessible and can practice from home. Like, there’s so many cool parts that, I mean, that’s for sure coming. The amazing thing is people say, “oh, VR, like, I don’t want that. It’s this dystopian idea and I’m all by myself in my headset.” Where it’s, like, the exact opposite is true. Like, you can have the most social experience with other people. And even just, like, the Zwift-style stuff, it’s like social fitness and be able to be there with other people. And the fun, competitive and cooperative. And eSports as we’ve seen, like, it could be the most social thing, which [00:15:00] the social part of it is really what drives how much you care about it and the meaning behind the activities.

So you talked about, you got feedback at some of the trade shows and obviously from the press. What feedback have you received from people that have used your product, and, you know, any interesting stories or anything that’s surprising that came out of that?

Johannes Scholl: We’ve always been working not only in the fitness industry, but also in the medical health rehabilitation and therapy world. And we have strengthened that work. And just in the last couple of months we have installed the first ICAROS health units, that’s our flagship model, in hospitals, for example. And in German rehabilitation hospitals. And it’s just great to get feedback from patients using our devices, because for them virtual reality in general, and I think our devices in particular, can really be a game changer. If you have a person that increases their walking speed significantly after a stroke, through using ICAROS devices, reduction of spasms, increase of entire body composition, overall happiness in their life and having a [00:16:00] joyful rehabilitation experience. Because if you’re going to rehab, this can be a very frustrating experience for you, maybe sometimes with little progress, lack of motivation, pain and everything that’s related to it.

And I mean, if you ask me for the coolest stories to tell, I will tell you patient stories. Individual success stories of patients. Whether it’s orthopedic, lower back pain or if it’s neurologic patients. That’s something very rewarding to see.

And then last but not least, in the last years and now again after Covid, we have installed some of our units in some of the coolest places on Earth. Like the top notch medical retreats, the high end five star hotels. Like, the places where the rich and the famous go. You see the professional athletes and the celebrities working out with it. If you look back a couple of years and you said, “you turned this into reality”, that’s a great story.

Preston Lewis: That’s super cool. I mean, when we started Black Box VR, a lot of it was based on the fact that most people quit their fitness programs, right? The adherence [00:17:00] to a fitness program is just dismal across the board. Because why? It’s boring, it’s not very engaging, a lot of times it’s not very social, it hurts. You know, maybe you don’t have access to a gym or whatever. And so, it’s interesting because it’s the same thing with rehabilitation, right? People go in, they get a surgery, and we hear it all the time from some of the hospitals we talked to in the early days, but they basically said, you know, “at least fifty percent of people will drop out.” If you’re not adhering to a fitness program, it’s just bad for your general health, right? It’s just you’re not gonna be as fit, you’re not gonna get the cognitive benefits and all these other amazing things that come with working out regularly.

But in rehabilitation, it’s even worse, right? Because if you get a surgery and if you don’t adhere to a program, you can no longer bend your knee, maybe. You can no longer extend your arm, right? So that’s, I think the cool thing about this technology across the board, whether it is from fitness or rehab, like you’re talking about. Is that gamification and these game mechanics paired with these immersive technologies have the ability to drastically [00:18:00] increase that adherence level through the fun, and the epicness and engagement. And as you both have mentioned, having the potential to be much more social as well, so.

Johannes Scholl: The social aspect. We are able to customize the experience and to individualize the workout and create a customized rehabilitation journey. We have just released the software that is called ICAROS N.E.X.T., Neuro Experience Training, where you as a patient would enter the device for the first time and you will get your first, like, preset test to find out what’s your current fitness level. And from that point on, you will have customized individual race tracks that would be designed just for you based on your personal skillset. And then the better you become, the more difficult, the more challenging it will get. So it will constantly push you to the edge of your comfort zone. And then over time we will see your progress, your individual progress, that you can also compare to others.

But in the end, it’s your journey and you can be proud of yourself and your progress. And the software, it will always be as fit as you are and [00:19:00] it will always bring you to your maximum and try to get the best out of you. And, I mean, there’s a lot more of potential in gamification in general, too. It’s not just that it’s more fun. If you build a good game that’s given, but then what else can you do with it? Like really driving the effectiveness of each session. That’s something we are looking into a lot right now. And it’s also for the future software development, like individual workouts, plans, rehabilitation journeys. That’s something we’re definitely looking into a lot.

Ryan DeLuca: No one ever says they’re excited to go to rehab. You know? Isn’t that the Amy Winehouse song? It’s like, “they tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, no, no, no.”

But yeah. But nobody’s ever like, “what do you have going on today?” It’s like, “I’m gonna rehab, I’m so excited. It’s rehab day.” You know? I mean, what we think about a lot is so many things in life that you want to do, that you should do, right?

Because you should do it. You should read these books. You should workout, obviously, you should eat, you know, the right food. You have to, like, force yourself to do it. Or do some kind of, like, incentive to make it so you do it. Like, your doctor’s gonna yell at you if you [00:20:00] don’t do the rehab.

But, you know, you go to normal rehab and obviously, like we talked about the same as like a workout, like, it’s not fun. It’s time consuming. It’s painful. You don’t see immediate results, you know? You don’t immediately go in there and see something. Where with games you can see immediate results. Like, you just hit a new record on this or reach this new level, and you’re getting the rewards, and excitement and there’s just so many things you could do.

What we really think is, it’s less about to get people just do what they know they should do and try to figure out how to force that. But how do we make the thing you should do something you want to do.

Maybe we’ll switch gears just a little bit, learn a little bit more about the business side of ICAROS. You know, what’s the overall business model? I know you have different models going into B2B. You obviously have the home versions of what you have, but tell us a little bit more about the business model and how you’re working to make that successful.

Johannes Scholl: Right. So, generally, you could decide between those two branches. We got the consumer branch and the other one is the commercial. Just historically we started ICAROS with commercial product, I mentioned earlier. Like 10k for the hardware, and then we would go into those top [00:21:00] places, and some of this is still the case.

However, especially after this event on CES, we noticed okay, there’s some strong demand from consumers out there. So, we should have something for them at hand as well. Until the Covid pandemic really hit, we were on the path to work on the commercial fitness and medical and those top-notch hotel. So it was all commercial customers, who all shut down through the pandemic. And then, we had to, kind of, invent a second business model. And that invention was the ICAROS HOME with the ICAROS CLOUD. And also we stepped back from only making virtual reality content to also having a mobile app that would run on the user’s tablet or smartphone.

And that would work with some very simple devices like our ICAROS CLOUD, which is an inflatable full body workout device. That in the first place does not work with virtual reality. So nowadays, I think we have a lot more users on our mobile app than we have in virtual reality. Still, we have a bit [00:22:00] different business models here.

So if we would talk to commercial customers nowadays, most of the revenue we would generate with this kind of customer is through the hardware and software lifetime license. So, for example, if we would talk to a therapy center in Germany and we would set up a device for say twenty five thousand euros, for them, it is really important to, like, have this one time payment and then have the entire system set up and then go from there. The more we look into fitness and consumers, the more we look into recurring revenue through software subscriptions. Especially our ICAROS app, it’s a monthly subscription. It is nineteen dollars per month. And you can choose monthly, you can activate or deactivate. So I think it is very fair contract that we’re offering here and it’s constantly growing, that is a great thing about it. Online subscriptions, they’re becoming more and more important for our entire business model.

As a consumer, you would buy an ICAROS HOME or ICAROS CLOUD, you would get the unit and then you would look into the [00:23:00] subscriptions. But generally content is king, and it’s more, and more and more about the content. When I speak of development nowadays, my co-founder, who’s leading our development team, it’s software development really. And it’s also fun to see, because you’re getting that feedback so directly.

You launch a new game, you will see the acceptance rate. You will see how long will be played. Are people willing to pay for it? Will they invite others? Will they battle each other on the leaderboard? Stuff like that. I, of course, love the online approach, because it’s like getting in close contact with the end user. So, these are the two business models for us.

Last but not least, through Covid also, we really started with setting up an online store and selling directly to consumers. So we really kicked off D2C business, that we didn’t have three years ago. The world has opened up again, not only in Europe and the US, but also Asia now. New projects are being started, fitness standards, hotels. So it’s great to be back on the map for them. But also, we build up this entire consumer [00:24:00] universe and it’s great to have this now, because we can just keep doing that without letting go of the enterprise customers. So that’s kind of what we’re looking at right now.

Preston Lewis: As you’re saying that, it’s really interesting to think back, because hindsight’s twenty-twenty and, luckily things have, kind of, worked out in the way we would hope with, as far as VR fitness in the industry, right? Because I mean, it could have taken a totally different turn. Meta might not have invested in it. HTC might not have kept going with their devices and stuff, but it’s, kind of, turned out for us.

But what it makes me think about is, you have a mobile app, which you mentioned has more people using it right now. Whereas VR, it’s still early. It’s interesting, because to me it kind of feels like when we were at Bodybuilding.com, it was the same discussion between mobile and web. Right? When you’re building software products. It was, like, we had like ninety percent of the order… well, I mean, obviously a hundred percent were, like, desktop. And then there was this moment, Ryan and I remember, where it was, like, “wow, mobile is gonna take over all of this, we should probably get ahead of this stuff.”

And so it’s just really interesting that we’re still in that moment in [00:25:00] time. I think it’s important for our listeners, because early days was super risky to get into VR. Now we’ve, kind of, passed this hump where it’s still early days, there’s still a ton of opportunity in the industry. But we’re, kind of, now on that precipice of, like, “are they really gonna go away from using their mobile phones? Wouldn’t people rather watch movies and things on their mobile phones?” It’s like, well, wait a minute. Pretty soon it’s gonna be hindsight, where they’re like, “oh, everyone has a very inexpensive headset where they can not only fulfill all their entertainment needs, but they’re gonna be able to do all the fitness stuff.”

So, thought that was a really important point that came to mind, as you’re saying this whole, “right now, our mobile app has more users, but VR, you know, it’s picking up.” It’s still a ton of opportunity for developers and creators to be able to get into this.

Johannes Scholl: One of the major reasons for us when we developed the CLOUD, and the mobile app and that entire system was, we are trying to answer three questions. Because let’s say, okay, it’s Covid and you want to sell product to the online store, like, what’s needed.

And we said, we want to build a full body workout device. So it needs to be full body, which the ICAROS devices, they give [00:26:00] you core, they give you shoulder, they give you coordination. But for example, arms or legs don’t really play a major role on the ICAROS device. So we said, okay, it needs to be full body.

Then the other thing was, it should be suitable for the entire family. So, if mommy buys it and she needs to justify, she can say, “hey, the kids can use it, you can use it.” So it should be adaptable for individual requirements. Then the other thing was, should be shipped in a single box via UPS. Because we’ll only be able to ship it through the online store.

Again, the fourth one, and that was really important, was, we want to have a very low entry hurdle on the technological side. So we said, realistically today, three years ago, like, how many of our potential customers do own a headset? Not too many. How many of these will buy a headset, because their desire to get that workout experience with ICAROS is so strong. A couple of them. We’re selling headsets a lot, not a big deal. But what’s the device, what’s the technology that all of the potential customers already have? [00:27:00] That’s the mobile device. So in the end, that’s how we developed the system.

We sneak into the households of the people without selling them too much extra equipment. Still, we are strong believers in the potential of VR, and especially there where virtual reality is not a nice-to-have, but it can really turn into a must-have. And, I mentioned therapy earlier. Also professional sports.

With using virtual reality, you can really make the workouts become more effective. You can make a difference in how the people react. If we talk to stroke patients, for example, the immersion in virtual reality makes such a difference for them, because they, kind of, leave the real world and suddenly the psychological effect plays a big role.

Or I can ask the same person to lean to the right fifteen degrees and hold that position for a minute, and that person will tell me, ” look at me, I’m not able to do that.” And the same person, [00:28:00] I will put the VR headset on and will ask to do that movement, because the person doesn’t want to hit an obstacle or they want to collect some points, and suddenly voila. It works.

And I show that person the video later on and they say, ” oh shit, that’s incredible.”

Preston Lewis: Wow.

Johannes Scholl: They, kind of, feel themselves differently. It could also be professional athletes looking for those extra gains. And so the cognitive aspect and the psychological aspect that you can add in very simple ways just by putting a headset on. Low cost, available everywhere.

I mean, that can become a real game changer. And I think that the industry should also look into these benefits and make use of them instead of just copying what’s already there.

I’m curious, like, how the entire VR industry will develop, and when will we see those headsets and the releases of big companies. I guess everybody’s curious.

Ryan DeLuca: That’s a great segue. You know what’s interesting is, I totally agree. If you think of VR as just a screen on your face, and it’s like, “what’s a big deal? You know, like, I’d rather just have a screen [00:29:00] somewhere else.” But when you actually realize and see the studies that have shown that, like, your brain treats it completely different. We all know Mind Over Matter. And the Placebo Effect.

There’s many different things that like you can, like, almost hack your brain to go beyond your limitations. And just, it’s a whole new world. And then once people realize like, “whoa, this is a new paradigm for what’s possible in all these different areas, that makes it way better.” You know, not just, like, five percent better, but potentially 10x better.

Johannes Scholl: Exactly.

Ryan DeLuca: That’s that mental leap, I think, that vision that once people get that, and that we and others are proving it out, that’s gonna help to really drive that home. And I think, to just kind of segue right into that, today’s VR fitness landscape, obviously with you and many other great companies that are building experiences and at-home and in-gym. With the technology we have today, which is way better than those early years, you know, that we remember seven years ago. But it’s still not quite where we want, but what do you think about the state of the art fitness today? And more importantly, where do you think it’s gonna go? Hardware, software adoption for fitness and sports, more specifically, in the [00:30:00] next three to five years?

Johannes Scholl: It’s hard to tell where it is going, but my wish for where it should be going is that we focus onto the benefits and on the huge difference that virtual reality, the impact it can have. And the immediate effect on training, especially the cognitive, psychological aspects. Anticipation, coordination, balance, like, complete skillset that otherwise you would maybe only train whilst going skiing or playing tennis, and stuff like that.

Then making use of, really, the community aspect, the social aspect. Being at home, having a cool class with other people, no matter where in the world. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m sure that it will not disappear.

I believe that the developers and the players in the industry, also the technology manufacturers, they should also link and cooperate and inform each other where stuff’s going. Technology needs to support us as developers to make this vision turn into a reality.

If that’s happening, then I see a great future for virtual reality exercise with all [00:31:00] those different facets and aspects.

Preston Lewis: What I think the cool thing too is, I mean, we’re all doing this for a lot of different reasons, right? Because we have a vision, but also at the end of the day, this is gonna really positively impact people’s lives.

It’s the mission to be able to help people, in Black Box’s case, help them level up their lives using this immersive technology, by creating these addictive fitness experiences, specifically the addiction. I mean, it’s always been this kind of like negative connotation, but we really think that gamifying things the right way can create healthy addictions that are gonna help you. Like we talked about at the beginning of the podcast.

Johannes Scholl: A positive habit.

Preston Lewis: Yeah, exactly. A positive habit that people stick to and adhere to that get them all the other positive benefits of that. So that being said, kind of, segueing into what’s been the most rewarding aspect of building ICAROS?

Has it been a customer testimonial? Maybe something you saw in the medical field? Maybe it’s just the pure joy of creating a cool, innovative product? What’s been the most rewarding aspect?

Johannes Scholl: There’s many different rewarding ones, as you said. The pure joy of [00:32:00] creating a relevant, radically new innovative technology. And being recognized as a relevant player in that field, in our time alone is something that I believe, as a product developer and startup founder, is something that many people would maybe dream of being in that position at some point. So you should be thankful for that alone. That is rewarding in the first place, building something really out of nowhere, and turning that vision into a reality. All in all, that’s the most important and most rewarding aspect.

However, if you look at it more closely, it is of course the people using the devices. Especially the patients improving on the devices, people changing their minds and changing their ways to live and being more active, living more healthy lifestyle. And telling you this on Instagram. Nowadays, lots of times I really just repost user generated content, because I see people at home, working with our devices, with [00:33:00] their family. And I didn’t ask them to post a video of it, it’s just they enjoy their workout and they enjoy working out with the systems. That is the second part that is just truly rewarding, and it shows you that the technology you’re working with, the products you building, that they’re relevant.

Last but not least, of course it is cool to see some of the units being installed in some of those places where I would never dream of. It’s not so much about the people. It’s great if celebrities use it, and stuff like that. But really, like, having those facilities recognizing the entire potential this technology has, and using our units, installing them there. And using them as, not to brag with it, but really also as like, “hey, look what we got, we got this ICAROS tool.” We have this one installation in Switzerland at the Red Bull media world where they say, “hey, this unit we have here, we cannot change the equipment, we cannot change, we cannot take your equipment out here.”

They’re just using it all over, and over, and over, and over and every two years or so, you have to go there and tighten all the [00:34:00] screws and look after the units, because they’re used so much. And I think these are the most rewarding aspects of the entire journey.

Not so much the awards. For the moment, that’s also something you are proud of, but really, I mean, it’s the long-term success. And the long-term feedback that really keeps you going and that motivates you also to take the next steps. And that’s it for me, really.

Ryan DeLuca: It’s just this amazing feeling sometimes when you’re like, “this was literally just an idea in our heads.” Like, and it’s crazy that that’s possible as humans, so we can do this working together. But it just this idea, which whatever that is, you know, in our brains and these neurons. And working together, and then all of a sudden there it is, and then you get that feedback that you dreamed of. Of like, “that was so fun.” Or “the rehab was much more effective.” Like it’s almost weird. Almost crazy that we can even do that.

Preston Lewis: Yeah, no. I mean, just to piggyback on that as well, I think the other cool thing, specifically in the ICAROS case, is that, and I guess also with the Black Box case, is that the medical industry is starting to recognize this technology as a real legit tool for rehabilitation, [00:35:00] as well as the fitness industry for all the other stuff we talked about.

You mentioned if a medical university or facility is using it on your end, that means they’ve probably gone through some pretty crazy rigorous testing. They’ve really vet, I mean the medical industry has all the compliance issues and stuff like that, and they really vet the technologies that come in.

So I think it speaks volumes to the legitimacy of this technology, of your technology, the fact that they’re actually using that over and over in their facilities.

Johannes Scholl: In the end, really it is about, like, does it help or not? That’s the simple question. When you speak with patients. I mean, it’s like the fun and everything, that’s nice to have, but does it help me?

And again, that’s where I believe virtual reality already is a game changer. And there’s a lot of studies available already on, Virtual reality, not only with fitness, but also, like, going to the dentist and having the headset on, and like all of those effects, everything that’s going on in your brain in virtual reality that you can use positively.

That’s also my strong belief why virtual reality will not disappear, because it already found its niches where you know it really makes a [00:36:00] huge difference. You can’t let go of it anymore. Now we will see how it grows more into other areas as well by becoming more affordable, more easy to use, more hands on, and on, and on and on.

But it already has proven its effectiveness. So it’s a proven technology now.

Ryan DeLuca: It’s hard for me to hold this one back, because I keep thinking about, like, the rehab. It’s like, you know, you’re saying like the person goes into rehab. And like, “I can’t move my arm this much.” And then, you know, they have to move outta the way to a hospital, and then they show they actually can. I’m imagining, like, you know, an older person in VR, they start walking. Speed is slow. But they’re in this nice, beautiful environment. And then Cocaine Bear comes flying at them and they have to run away. And it’s like, “look, see? I told you you could. Look what you did.” You see people freaking out. That might not be a good idea. But, like, yeah all of a sudden… “see how fast you ran?” And they’ll be like, “I’m never doing this again.”

Preston Lewis: Now you make me wanna watch Cocaine Bear. I still haven’t seen it. That sounds awesome.

Ryan DeLuca: It’s pretty fun.

Preston Lewis: Well and to piggyback on that, as well, with the Black Box stuff as far as the studies. We’ve done multiple studies with UCLA, [00:37:00] university studies. And, man, the results that the people in the studies have experienced are insane. Like, we did one where it was three months of workouts, which was about twelve weeks of three times per week doing a Black Box workout. And it proved that Black Box’s experience compared to, like, the traditional cable resistance machine training, which was “the control”, resulted in greater decreased body fat, increased lean body mass, lower resting heart rate, lower systolic diastolic blood pressure, increased flexibility. Pretty much every, every metric you could have measured the Black Box VR workout was better than the traditional cable resistance training. And this is all based on university studies, so we believe this is the future of fitness, as it sounds like you do as well. And the whole industry’s just getting started.

Johannes Scholl: The industry should work together. The electronics manufacturers, the software developers. I mean, we all know especially with certain customers, how hard it can be to really install virtual reality equipment at [00:38:00] some place and then get it running. Like, installing is one part, but then have it being operated by the people on site who might be, I don’t know, healthcare professionals, whatever. The easier it becomes, the easier the job will be for us. And ultimately the more patients, users, will benefit from it.

Preston Lewis: You and your team have been on the forefront of innovation in this space. So, we wanna know, our audience wants to know what’s next for ICAROS? Do you have any exciting new upcoming developments or products that you have in the pipeline?

Johannes Scholl: I mentioned earlier that our focus really is software development. So I can tell, like, within this year or so, you will not see any new crazy hardware from ICAROS.

We constantly bring crazy new hardware, but not for now. We’re really focusing on both app and virtual reality software development. Building up the community, making the individual user profile more important for the individual user. Like this itch, to constantly, like, log in. These kind of effects are very important to us.

And then, we’ll conduct several studies in Germany with [00:39:00] hospitals and universities around lower back pain. We just launched a study with the University Clinic in Heidelberg. They are working with post-Covid, long-Covid patients. Most of it’s really about motivation and getting people into workout again by using virtual reality.

That will be very interesting to see the outcome of that study. And then, of course, implementing all of these learnings into our software, those individualized training programs will play a major role. So, lots of stuff going on in the digital world at ICAROS right now.

Ryan DeLuca: I just wanna say, it’s an honor to be able to have you on the podcast. If you would’ve told my fourteen year old self, when I was watching Lawnmower Man, that I would find and meet the person that actually make this a reality and I’m gonna get fit from it. Like, that’s, I would’ve blown my fourteen year old mind.

Johannes Scholl: Thank Preston, Ryan, it’s our pleasure to be a part of your podcast. And also following you, and your progress and process throughout the time, working with virtual reality and also having this international connection [00:40:00] in Europe and the US, which I think is a very cool thing. And it’s not a given, and if you have a relation, you need to work on a relation. And that’s cool. So again, it’s my pleasure to contribute to this podcast today a bit. Man, I look forward to our next conversation.

Preston Lewis: Awesome. Well, that’s all the time we have. Thanks so much, Johannes, for joining us and sharing your team’s story, insights and passion for creating the future of VR Fitness with our audience. For any of you in the audience, as usual, if you’d like to get in contact with the team, we’ll put all the info into the show notes, so be sure to check those out. Thanks again.

Boom. Explosions. All right. Let’s, uh, that was awesome. Um, let’s do…

Ryan DeLuca: Are we supposed to dab now?

Preston Lewis: Yeah, yeah.

Thanks for listening to the VR Fitness Insider podcast. Do you know of anyone that should be on our show or have feedback? Don’t forget to email us at podcast vr fitness insider.com and follow us at VR Fitness Insider on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also join our Discord channel. Until next time, keep creating and dreaming up the next big thing that will [00:41:00] revolutionize the world of fitness.

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Preston Lewis
Preston is the Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Black Box VR. Preston is a fitness fanatic, UXUI junkie, product design ninja and product visionary. Preston has provided creative direction and product management to some of the largest brands in the world. His passion for amazing products and solving difficult design problems has earned him numerous awards for projects ranging from traditional print campaigns and packaging design, to chart-topping mobile applications with complex information architectures. After helping grow multi-million dollar brands, Preston decided to leap back into the world of entrepreneurship with a mission to combine his passions for technology, games, fitness, and changing lives, to create the future of fitness; with this vision, Black Box VR was born. When he's not creating new digital products and growing brands, he can be found enjoying paleo treats with his wife that she posts on her blog, AmazingPaleo.com, playing the guitar, singing, working out in VR and dreaming up the next tech innovation.