A popular saying goes, Fitness is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle. Statistics show that around 14 percent of the US population have an active Gym membership. Being inevitable, Gym is not just for pro-athletes, the majority of the gym goers are beginners and cycling is the most common and popular exercise that any gym goer has to do at least for 15 mins a day. Cycling is the easiest and less injury prone workout to begin with which is also really good for cardio. Not only at the gym, quite many people get drawn to the idea of purchasing an exercise bike to work out indoors.
An exercise bike is a much useful tool. But, just as with any other tool, it’ll only help if you make use of it the right way. Unfortunately, stationary bikes can get monotonous after some while. A lot of individuals become fed up with exercise biking.
The following video shows the VR cycling experience which was developed based on the learnings that we have evolved. Though the goal of this project is to make users fit by covering more distance by making them feel interested and addicted, we also need to focus on some of the core challenges like
- Identify the common causes of motion sickness
- Evolving out and follow the right guidelines for minimizing motion sickness
- Identify usability considerations for different types of VR movement design
This project has a very simple setup that includes,
- A cycle
- Oculus Go headset running the VR Cycle app
- An Android mobile phone mounted at the center of the pedal running the client app, which sockets the rpm from the phone to the VR cycle app (running in the headset). This will be replaced by embedded devices soon.
While developing this POC, it was all about understanding the locomotion and ergonomics of the VR system and the design techniques that worked better.
Locomotion and Ergonomics in Virtual Reality
Generally most of the VR applications are developed for a static experience. But there are also some VR applications that depend on locomotion as a core design. Getting it right is essential for success. The key aspect in a virtual reality system is that it should respond to the user's intent and remain comfortable throughout the experience. But there are some situations where there is a mismatch between what is seen and what is felt, which triggers the discomfort. In other words the acceleration that the body feels needs to match with the motion that we see. If we don’t get it, we might get a signal that something is wrong.
We need to make the VR locomotion system comfortable for the users, by designing the controls and behaviour in such a way that it minimizes the trigger of discomfort without compromising the design goals. It takes time for people to discover what works well, but there are some techniques that are usually recommended.
The recommended techniques are
- Physical Movement
- Scripted Movement
- Avatar Movement
- Steering Motion
- World pulling
In this technique, the movement in VR matches physical movements. This provides the most comfortable experiences as there is no mismatch of senses that would trigger the discomfort. There are some VR experiences that rely on physical movements as the core design like Super Hot VR game. The following gif image shows one of our VR experiments, in which we were using physical movement. This gives the feel of a user walking over a plank.
In this type of movement, perspective moves along a predefined path of motion. The sense of movement of the body in the space is provided purely by visual simulation. For example Roller coaster experience in VR (sitting idle in a chair but getting an illusion of movement).
If the design requires arm or body motion during the movement, this helps a bit. But it is difficult for people to put up for very long time.
This kind of movement is similar to controlling a character in 3D computer games. The more we move our body while moving in VR, the more likely we remain comfortable. For example the user swinging arms when the 3D character is running forward in the virtual world. This is a subtle change but it has an important effect on the sense of immersion. The way we mimic the way we move in the real world using all the available inputs, better the experience.
In this motion, the player is controlling the inertia. People believed that this kind of movement is never comfortable. But we have many VR experiences that many people enjoy despite sensory mismatch, example JetIsland VR. This is why it is important to keep trying new things and not assume everything needs to be comfortable all the time. We used this motion in one of our VR projects, where the user can traverse the LAN network.
The player is always stationary but he pulls or pushes the world or objects around. This motion is comfortable because it disregards the lack of acceleration that we feel during movement. We used this kind of interaction in one of our visualizations, where the user pulls the earth, selects some cities and sees the flights that enroute them. We used leap motion for this interaction.
An instance where one can quickly appear somewhere, by aiming a checkpoint and pressing a button. This also disregards the lack of acceleration that we feel during movement. We used this kind of motion in one of the visualizations, where the user can view the earth in different viewpoints like morning, noon, evening and midnight.
One thing that we have learnt is that individual preferences and responses to locomotion can vary a bit. It is recommended that a VR experience can support all common types of locomotion. When ever required people can choose the behavior they prefer.
Most of our learnings are consistent with the guidelines proposed by Unity and Oculus. They claim that these best techniques are those which maintain the highest level of immersion and comfort. These are some of the techniques they usually recommended. The combination of these evolved design techniques were used in the VR cycle experience.
The following features are in our roadmap to reduce the boredom of exercising on a bike and make it more fun with technology.
Racing - Connect to neighbours or anyone from the world through the internet and go for a race.
Wind on the face - Integrate Fans and enjoy the realistic experience of the wind
Riding Uphill - Place pressure sensors in the pedals to analyze the thrust to simulator high tension gears for uphill riding