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Now You Can Burn Calories While Racing in Virtual Reality

February 9, 2016, 2:17 PM UTC

With billions of dollars being invested in the virtual reality market, a secondary market is emerging for peripherals. First there was the $700 Virtuix Omni multidirectional virtual reality treadmill, which connects to headsets to bring walking and running to games. Now there’s the $400 VirZOOM VZ Controller, which lets users pedal through virtual reality experiences.

Available in the second quarter of this year, the VZ Controller is a heavily modified folding exercise bike with custom sensors and controls that support a wide range of game play. The bike plugs into the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, which are sold separately.

Users will pay a $10 monthly subscription or a $200 lifetime membership fee to receive a growing library of exclusive games that have been designed to give people a good workout. VirZOOM co-founder and CEO Eric Janszen says the device is a combination of Fitbit (FIT) and Lumosity, where the games are not played for their own sake, but to produce health benefits.

“The games are specially designed to encourage interval exercise with periods of intense pedaling in response to game play, followed by periods of rest,” Janszen says.

For example, in Lord of Tanks, one of five free games that comes packed with the bike, computer-controlled tanks will chase players for a period and then leave them alone to rest before chasing them again.

Janszen says this type of interval exercise is a time-efficient way to lose weight and get fit because users’ metabolic rates remain elevated for hours after they stop exercising, and they continue to burn calories.

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The bike offers eight resistance levels, and Janszen says customers typically use VirZOOM for 30 minutes at a time. Other interactive offerings include the open-wheel racer Go Fast Car, the mythological Pegasus flying game Pegaso, and the horse-riding, bandit-catching adventure Stampede!

Overseeing both the hardware and the internal development of these games is VirZoom co-founder and chief technology officer Eric Malafeew, who spent 15 years at video game developer Harmonix working on game franchises such as Rock Band and Dance Central.

Third-party developers also are working on virtual reality exercise games for the bike, which Janszen says will further expand the types of games people can exercise with.

ESports has also been built into the new bike.

“We have major plans in this area,” Janszen says. “The eight VZ Controller resistance levels will correspond to eight competitive fitness level leagues, from beginner to advanced. Players will compete both to win competitions by skill and also by physical ability, and compete to improve from one league to another. Mobile VR users will subscribe to watch competitions, at first in 2D but later in 3D when that capability is supported by VR game engines.”

Janszen says discussions related to cooperative marketing efforts are ongoing with Facebook (FB), HTC (HTC), and Sony (SNE), which have provided VirZOOM the development kits to connect the VZ Controller to their platforms.

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Consumers will spend $5.1 billion on virtual reality gaming hardware, accessories, and software in 2016, according to SuperData Research. That’s up from the $660 million spent in 2015, says the marketing leader. Meanwhile, the global market is expected to grow to $8.9 billion in 2017 and $12.3 billion in 2018. Samsung (SSNLF), Nvidia (NVDA), Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC), and AMD (AMD) are among the companies investing in VR.

Janszen said VirZOOM has raised “significantly more” than the $1.8 million initial funding from iTulip Investment Group that was announced last April. Janszen is also co-founder and president of iTulip Inc., which the iTulip Investment Group is part of. He says VirZOOM is on track to raise institutional and strategic funding this winter and spring.

Virtuix has raised over $8.3 million since April 2014 as investors have been pouring money into all avenues of virtual reality. Now they have the first fitness peripheral.