For $40, you can add a virtual reality experience to your boring stationary bike.
As great of a calorie-burning exercise as it may be, riding a stationary bike is typically pretty boring. To add a little more excitement to the relatively dull workout, Paul Yan decided to enhance it with the help of virtual reality. The best part? Unlike commercial products that can cost upwards of a few hundred dollars, the Maker was able to create an “Arduino thingamajig” for just $40.
The unit attaches to a bike and wirelessly communicates with an accompanying mobile device over Bluetooth Low Energy. It is equipped with an optical tachometer that’s responsible for measuring the revolution of a wheel; meaning, it can monitor the movement and speed of any stationary cycle or piece of exercise equipment with a rotating part.
“I’m using a mountain bike on an indoor trainer but the beauty of this non-invasive approach is that you could use it with treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, or anything that has a looping/revolving surface,” Yan explains.
The attachment is placed next to the rear wheel, where it detects a paper strip on the tire as its starting point. Each time the wheel goes around, the Arduino sends a wireless message to the paired phone.
Using a custom app and a pre-fab virtual environment powered by the Unity 3D game engine, the smartphone is placed inside a VR viewer strapped to the cyclist’s face. Now instead of staring at the wall or TV while pedaling away, the wearer can immerse themselves in a 3D city. The virtual bike will only nudge forward whenever the app receives a message from the Arduino reporting that the physical bike’s wheel has made a complete rotation.
“We are effectively mapping the physical action of pedaling to movement in the virtual space to make an oversized gaming controller,” the Maker adds.
The headset that Yan used only cost $10, and is compatible with Google Cardboard. He does advise those looking to build something similar that, “It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to have the physical bike steer the direction of the virtual bike. Why not give the player total freedom to explore?”
When all is said and done, Yan’s project is certainly a fun and more engaging way of turning a mundane activity into something a lot more exciting — without breaking the bank or overcomplicating things. See it in action below!