VR and the future of fitness

Micron Technology | June 2019


Digital technology has already transformed fitness. Your smartphone counts your daily steps; lightweight, wireless-enabled watches and other “wearables” can monitor your heart rate and vital statistics; and gym equipment with built-in workout tracking and video monitors can take your workout to anyplace on the planet.

Before you take a breather from your virtual at-home spin class or let your smart watch sync with your sleep app and hourly analytics, make room for virtual reality (VR). Not only will VR enhance the overall workout experience, but it will also address obstacles to exercise — a lack of motivation and our natural preference to conserve energy and avoid activity.

Because VR is emerging as the next big computing and consumer platform (following the emergence of the internet and mobile devices), it should be no surprise to see VR driving innovation across industries and use cases, such as architecture, mental health and education. So, why not your workout, or the one you should have gone to today?

What if a VR headset became as natural to use as your laptop or smartphone? How would that affect your life, specifically your daily workout at the gym?

The VR Opportunity

Ryan DeLuca and Preston Lewis spent 17 years growing a leading e¬ commerce site that provided information about sports and fitness and sold nutritional supplements. It became very successful, with more than 30 million fitness enthusiasts visiting it each month.

In 2015, the duo decided to start a new venture combining their loves for fitness and technology. After three years, Black Box VR launched, a virtual reality gym.

“We took what we learned from the fitness industry, which is that most people do not stick to a workout regimen. They sign up for the gym in January and stop going in March. They lapse. They stop showing up, even once a week. Even the most advanced scientists and doctors haven’t figured out a solution to this problem.

We knew all about fitness and we knew the addictive qualities of gaming, so we decided, ‘Let’s turn the traditional gym workout into a game, and let’s put that game on the newest computing platform, virtual reality!’”

Black Box VR isn’t the only one making moves into the VR fitness market.

  • WalkOVR has created a system of sensors that attach to your knees, ankles and torso to record lower body movement, making it possible to run in virtual environments while staying put in reality. The product was designed with fitness in mind but is also compatible with games that are not necessarily fitness related.
  • BoxVR received VR Fitness Insider’s 2017 Best VR Fitness Game of the Year for its at-home VR boxing workout where the user punches to a rhythmic beat. Developed by fitness instructors, it’s like a VR Tae-Bo video, minus the three easy payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling.
  • VirZOOM’s “VZfit Sensor Kit” attaches to any stationary bike to turn it into a VR cycling experience. In the VR world, the cyclist can bicycle through real destinations or fly Pegasus through a canyon.

Turning workouts into a game is a genius move — capitalizing on our human need for instant rewards and achievements from a game versus waiting days or even weeks to see physical results from a workout.

What if a VR headset became as natural to use as your laptop or smartphone? How would that affect your life, specifically your daily workout at the gym?

Let’s be honest, working out can be a pain, and not in the “bothersome” sense of the word but literally painful. The purpose of a workout is to tire, weaken and break down muscles so they rebuild stronger than before. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” was coined for a reason. Exercising in a VR environment helps to trick our mind into pushing through the pain because it’s a fun experience.

Aaron Stanton, founder of the VR Institute of Health and Exercise, said, “What VR is really good at doing is distracting you, and this is incredibly important in exercise. When you're distracted, you have a goal or you have something you're focusing on, you do not perceive discomfort the same way.”

Have you woken up sore the day after a good pickup basketball game, a day skiing on the slopes, or a joyful afternoon gardening? It’s a similar concept — you are doing something you enjoy, so rather than focusing on the pain of one more rep, you are focused on the activity and goals being accomplished.

The benefits of a VR workout for the athlete are clear, but what about the many companies in pursuit of the VR fitness dream?

The market potential for VR fitness is astounding. According to The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the $30 billion health and fitness industry in the United States has been growing by at least 3% to 4% annually for the last decade, with no sign of a slowdown. Health clubs attracted more than 70 million consumers in 2017, and the number of individual health club members totaled 60.9 million. There are roughly 38,000 gym locations in the U.S. Once you look at the market potential, it’s not hard to understand why there is heavy investment in this market.

50,000 Data Points

A key benefit of a VR workout is consistency and tracking. Entire markets are devoted to tracking workouts; you may be wearing one on your wrist right now. Virtual reality hardware is designed to track movements to enable the user to interact with the virtual environment. These sensors and accelerometers can track even the most minute movements, making it a very efficient medium for tracking a workout.

For example, each Black Box VR workout captures over 50,000 data points, and artificial intelligence (AI) tailors the workout on the fly. AI is the personal trainer who immediately changes the resistance levels and keeps you from working beyond your capabilities or doing the wrong motion repeatedly.

Ryan DeLuca

“Let’s turn the traditional gym workout into a game, and let’s put that game on the newest computing platform, virtual reality!”

Black Box VR

But what to do with all this data? DeLuca and Lewis learned firsthand that the cloud accelerates company formation and growth in today’s start-and-launch economy. All that workout and personal data needs to be stored somewhere, and Black Box VR are choosing to use the cloud experts to help them rather than worrying about it themselves.They explained that unlike their first company they don’t have to spend valuable time dealing with server issues — they can now leave that to cloud providers.

Cloud providers are among the largest consumers of DRAM and NAND storage solutions because of the vast quantities of data they need to move, process and store. Fortunately for VR fitness companies and the 50,000 data points generated in each workout, Micron is devoted to supporting the cloud with its memory solutions and technical expertise to maximize efficiency. That means constant access to those data points with no down time.

“We see VR as having important implications beyond fitness and personal health innovation,” said Kris Baxter, Micron’s vice president of marketing for the Embedded Business Unit. “We believe you’re going to see VR transforming a variety of critical areas including Healthcare and Education. The reach and adoption of VR is anticipated to be widespread and very impactful as entrepreneurs and developers take advantage of its full potential. The interactive quality of the VR experience, including data collection, machine learning and intelligent feedback will enable a wide range of solutions for consumers, companies and infrastructure.”

It’s creative thinking, brave entrepreneurs and critical technologies that are changing the world to enrich life. What VR brings to the fitness game is transforming the way people exercise. Leveling up your character takes on a whole new meaning. The effort you put into your VR workout will have immediate in-game rewards and long-term health benefits. Sure, it may feel like you are playing a game and having fun; in reality, you’ll be upgrading the most important character in the storyline — yourself.

Continue reading part II of the VR fitness series: Can Playing a Video Game Match Riding in the Tour de France?