On April 24th about 70 attendees piled into Trailhead to enjoy Tasso sandwiches and talk about this month’s theme: Virtual Reality fitness platforms. Boise possesses multiple professionals in this domain, particularly, Black Box VR – Recipients of the 2018 CES award for Most Innovative Startup. This past year they launched a flagship location in San Francisco, California.
As is standard for our monthly meetings, a panel of experts banded together to answer questions and provide insights upon the ins and outs of the month’s focus. Our moderator was Ryan DeLuca, one of Idaho’s favorite tech entrepreneurs.
Other panel participants were Aaron Stanton of the VR Institute of Health & Exercise, Preston Lewis, Co-Founder and CCO of Black Box VR, Shane Hoalst, Editor-in-Chief of Virtual Reality Fitness Insider, and Darren Ashby, VP of Advanced Development at Icon Health & Fitness. Ashby has been in the space for nearly 25 years, collaborating with innovations such as NordicTrack and iFit. We were very fortunate to have them travel up from their headquarters in Utah to participate in our event.
The topic of virtual reality and fitness is fairly targeted but left enough room for a lively discussion, including the irony of a doughnut saving a fitness company and the odd success of a platform mixing Tetris and treadmills. However, one key conversation made itself apparent throughout the night: A healthy debate about the factors and reality of VR becoming a true utility and not just an entertainment source.
Fitness, as an industry, focuses on delivering successful health results, often without a focus on a participants enjoyment. . As the panelists noted, however, it is not a space that lacks a demand for gamification. By inviting the mind into another world, efforts made concurrently in the real world are more easily manipulated. Stanton noted that virtual reality’s viability as a health-related platform is improving and has been utilized as a medical tool by many institutions. In fact, VR has been seen to reduce chronic pain to a point that can reduce the need for prescription painkillers.
Generally, the panelists discussed that the direction of VR is indeed becoming less and less centered on gaming. The industry’s focus on entertainment has not proven to provide the massive adoption rates that many have anticipated. There is a high demand for Enterprise solutions, but fitness may be uniquely situated cross the divide between utility and entertainment.
Boise’s own Bodybuilding.com was one of the first organizations combining internet technology with market demand for more targeted information about health and fitness products. Many of the minds behind bodybuilding.com are involved with Black Box VR – The next step in merging fitness and technology together. With just three years of operations, they have made great progress in getting a truly disruptive product to market. Black Box’s Preston Lewis recounted the trials of Black Box’s journey, including the irony of a doughnut saving a fitness company.
Icon Fitness, a mainstay in the fitness industry, is one of the first major manufacturers to bring a vr-based product to the consumer market. With over 30 years of product development experience, the fact that they are moving quickly into this segment speaks towards its future potential.
Shane Hoalst described the growing interest of vr applications being paired with fitness activity. The recent success of the Beat Saber game has garnered a lot of attention outside of the typical video game outlets. The practice of evaluating the fitness benefit of a game is now becoming common place and inspiring a whole new wave of health-oriented offerings. He notes that this trend will continue to push the technologies awareness as it draws attention from those outsides of its traditional demographics.
Ultimately, 2019 is going to be a key year for the industry. With innovations like the Oculus Quest seeking to make VR chord-free, and Valve Knuckles stepping up haptic engagement, the technology is evolving more rapidly than ever. Stanton noted that progress will be about the growth of the industry’s ecosystem and that developers must find and meet the demand for utility, not solely entertainment.
As the panelists stated, “It’s about leveling up your life.”
The Idaho Virtual Reality Council will have its next regular meeting on May 22nd, at 5:00 P.M. in the Trailhead space. This month’s theme will be Augmented Reality! Come join us in the Metaverse, it is only getting bigger and bigger by the day.