VIDEO GAMES

Austin's Blue Goji adding VR to its fitness games

The company hopes to add five virtual-reality apps to its lineup by the end of the year.

Posted June 15th, 2016

ContributedAn attendee of the Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, D.C., tries out "GoWings Safari," an active VR app from Blue Goji.

Blue Goji, an Austin company that's been working on marrying unused workout equipment in the home with apps that promote fitness, is now stepping up to virtual reality.

The company says it's developing about five games, to be available by the end of the year, that would use its Goji Play gear and the addition of a VR headset such as Samsung's Oculus Gear VR.

That means using a stationary bike or stair-stepper while donning a VR headset for games that create the illusion of flight, such as in the first game the company has demoed, "GoWings Safari."

"All of our games going forward will be VR-enabled," said Frank Huang, the company's chief operating officer. "We want to change cardio and virtual reality with active gaming and active VR."

The challenges include ensuring that adding external motion doesn't create motion sickness as the company creates new games and converts its existing ones to VR. But Huang says the company believes it can make VR a less sedentary experience and more fun.

In a test demo I tried for "GoWings," the addition of VR did create a more immersive experience, especially when increasing the pace on the stair stepper led to virtual flight. 

On the other hand, it still required controlling the experience with buttons on the GoPlay controllers, and it's hard to tell how comfortable a VR headset would be to wear during a more extended, sweaty session. (For the record, I was sweating within less than a minute.)

Leaning left or right and looking around controlled some of the motion and view within the app. Given safety issues with having one's view blocked, it's not something that would currently work well with running on a treadmill, Huang said.

Blue Goji is remaining platform agnostic; its apps will be geared toward all available VR hardware, not just Gear VR. Currently, only the HTC Vive VR headset is made for getting out of a chair and moving around a physical environment, though augmented reality headsets on the way powered by software from Microsoft could make it easier to marry fitness with virtual apps. But what Blue Goji plans to offer in the next few months, Huang says "doesn't exist" anywhere else.

For those who own Goji Play, 2-D apps are free to download, but the VR ones will likely cost a few dollars each given the amount of work being put into developing them, Huang said.

The company is involved with The Partnership For a Healthier America, having done a demo of its VR tech at a recent Washington D.C. summit, and is working with about 30 students at the University of California, Berkeley on fellowships to work on technology to promote physical and mental wellness. Blue Goji has 30 employees, 12 of them in Austin where it's headquartered.

ContributedAn image from GoWings Safari, a VR exercise game in the works from Austin fitness startup Blue Goji. 

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