Munich-based startup Icaros GmbH has a new way to motivate people to exercise more. Its somewhat intimidating fitness system blends the physical world with the virtual world, making you the protagonist of your own video game while working key muscles up and down your body. The company hopes the system will motivate folks that have come to avoid the gym like it's radioactive. Gimmick or a viable modern spin on exercise?
The idea of blending exercise with video games isn't a new one. Nintendo got plenty of hype years ago with the Wii and offerings like Wii Fit, and there've been multiple other examples of virtual-physical exercise equipment, such as the Pro-Form Le Tour de France Indoor Cycle.
Icaros' idea of virtual reality fitness goes well beyond those predecessors and beyond other forms of exercise gaming with virtual reality headsets. Designed by HYVE Innovation Design, which also brought us the carbon fiber Gridboard and electric skateboard paddling, the Icaros machine looks like some type of torture device or kinky sex machine. This machine is designed to work you out, though, not work you over or get you off. Resting elbows and knees in the cradles, the player kneels on the Icaros and grabs hold of the handlebars.
The wireless gaming system includes a handlebar-mounted control unit that tracks movements and connects with the game running on a PC or smartphone. Flip the virtual reality headset down (the system works with both Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR headsets) and you're transported into a digital world where you can fly and float with ease. The Icaros machine lets you slide your legs and arms, tilt forward and backward, and roll from side to side, controlling your in-game movements and working out in the process.
Icaros' literature indicates that it provides a comprehensive workout of muscle groups: neck, chest, shoulders, abs, quads and more. The company also says that the machine can help with balance, concentration and reflexes.
The Icaros machine is a wireless design that can run completely on rechargeable battery power. The only thing that you might have to plug in is an Oculus-connected computer. When using the Samsung Gear VR, however, the Icarus app runs on a smartphone, so the whole system is wireless and battery-operated.
Icaros CEO Michael Schmidt tells us that users tend to run out of energy before the batteries. He estimates that players can expect about two to three hours out of a Samsung S6 smartphone/Gear VR headset combo and four to five from the controller – sounds like more than enough time for a virtual reality fitness session (and the Gear VR can also plug into a charger to extend that indefinitely).
A system like this needs some compelling games to be an effective motivator, and those are still a work in progress. Icaros' website highlights a simple flight simulator that lets you fly through the trees and over the peaks of the Alps – neat, but not exactly something that's going to excite many folks into a trim, new body.
"We are currently working on an air pursuit game, an air race game and a tutorial, which hones the pilot's skills," Schmidt tells us. "Our goal is to provide at least four additional games in 2016, which will include a motorcycle race, an air fight, a multiplayer air race and a submarine obstacle run. Each game will have specific training modes."
Icaros' launch model is now available for preorder at a price around €7,500 (US$8,200) before VAT and shipping. The package includes everything but the smartphone - the fitness machine, controller, Samsung Gear VR headset and access to the app. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in late March. Icaros is aiming the current model primarily at businesses like gyms and hotels, but it has mentioned the possibility of a home machine later down the line. It's also working to hammer out a rental system and distribution framework.
Icaros will be demonstrating its hardware at the upcoming CES and ISPO shows. It was recently announced a winner of the ISPO BrandNew Award.
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