High-Tech Treadmill Uses Virtual Reality to Encourage Cardiovascular Fitness

Virtual reality, or VR, is finding more applications as the technology matures. It is no longer only used for gaming or entertainment. One Austin-based company, Blue Goji, is using VR to improve health by making cardiovascular workouts more fun.

The company featured its prototype Infinity treadmill at Austin’s South By Southwest.

The treadmill is paired with a virtual reality headset worn by the user. Before starting the treadmill, the user is hooked up to a belt to prevent falls while running on the treadmill and playing a VR game.

The fully immersive experience transports the user into a virtual world where he or she can be racing against virtual people.

“You have much more motivation to actually get running and do something that pushes your limits. It was pretty cool,” said Leonardo Mattiazzi, who tested the Infinity treadmill. He said it took the boredom out of running inside without actually going anywhere.

Motion sickness less likely

In addition to encouraging better cardiovascular health, the active use of virtual reality also helps solve a common problem while wearing a VR headset said Blue Goji’s marketing associate, Kyra Constam.

“A lot of VR experiences cause motion sickness because there’s a disconnect in the brain, just psychologically. You’re moving in the game, but you’re not moving in real life, and we have come up with the solution. When you’re moving on the treadmill and you’re moving in the game, it mitigates that motion sickness, and you really get full immersion without all of the negative side effects.”

Constam added that any disorientation usually goes away quickly.

However, users who tested the Infinity treadmill wearing the VR headset each had a different experience.

“Pretty quickly you adjust to it,” said Mattiazzi, who took 10 seconds to adjust to running in the virtual world.

VR learning curve

“All I could think of when I was doing it was if my wife was doing this, she would have been barfing all over that because it’s interesting how the brain works. Going downhill, it felt like I was on a roller coaster,” said first time user Mark Sackler, who added, “I don’t get motion sickness easily, but I got a little, felt a little queasy at one point when I was out of control. So it’s surprisingly realistic.”

“There’s a bit of a learning curve for VR in general. I believe that the first time you do it is definitely going to be the most disorienting time, and the more you do it, the more you get used to it,” Constam said.

The cost for the hardware and software is fairly steep at $12,000. However, Constam said the virtual reality treadmill is ideal for high-end gyms, rehabilitation centers and physical therapy clinics. Blue Goji plans to make the Infinity treadmill ready for the public in 2019.

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