Wave goodbye to boring old treadmills and say hello to gamified exercise sessions where cameras and sensors watch you and you earn points for every rep.
Versus, the latest creation from Australian tech entrepreneur Brad Bond, uses 3D cameras, motion sensors and TV monitors to provide real-time feedback on users' exercise technique and efforts, and scores individual's overall performance against others in the gym.
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Hi-tech fitness takes competition online
Workouts are tracked online at high-tech fitness studio Versus as 3D-video cameras and motion sensors provide real-time feedback on your performance and ranking against other gym-goers.
The technology is just one of a series of new fitness inventions, which quantifies fitness and links exercise with gaming.The scores it produces take height, weight, age and power into account.
At first glance, the studio looks like any other gym. But step inside and you discover a series of screens and cushioned floors embedded with sensors.
They monitor a person’s movement and weight distribution to ensure exercises are being completed correctly and safely. Corrections and scores are displayed on the screens as people exercise.
Mr Bond started working on the concept three years ago and has spent the past six months running trials. His other technology ventures include the referral website Word Of Mouth Online (WOMO) and IT support services firm IntegrITi.
“I’ve been looking at creating something like this for 10 years, but the technology wasn’t there for me to be able to achieve what I wanted,” he said.
“So far we’ve had over 150 people trial the equipment, just running a couple of sessions a week so we can test everything out and get the calibration right. Some people are now becoming regulars.”
The sessions at the gym in south east Melbourne leave even the fittest first-timers questioning their abilities, but soon become easier and people are encouraged to work within their physical limits.
Participants in the group circuit classes use free weights, rowing machines, ropes, kettle bells, spin bikes, steps and a variety of other exercises while motivated and monitored by a trainer.
There are four levels of difficulty, but each person must perfect their technique and meet certain targets before being able to move up a level.
Mr Bond says the concept taps into people’s current desire to quantify themselves, seen in the uptake of sleep monitoring apps and fitness tracking apparatuses like wristbands and smartwatches.
“It’s similar to why Strava and RunKeeper have taken off: people want to be able to track their progress over time,” he said.
“But in an indoor environment there haven’t been any really good solutions. We aimed for the person to be able to walk into a fitness studio with no different clothing or electronics, just come along, do a workout and have everything tracked for them.”
Sports scientist Dr Craig Duncan, who has worked with Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers, said there is room for error with technology.
“I would never like something to take away the need for a human instructor or coach to be there,” he said.
“As long as it’s safe and the products have been well screened by medical professionals, if it encourages people to move, I think it’s a positive thing. But I must stress we want something that encourages people to exercise long term, not just short term.”
Although the Wii Fit introduced exercise to video games in 2006, Versus is the first to take it into group sessions. But there could soon be competitors.
Through their Silicon Valley start-up Blue Goji, the inventors of Guitar Hero, Charles and Kai Huang have developed a fitness device that attaches to, and transforms treadmills and stationary bikes into a game. People can track their progress later on their tablets and smartphones.
Other innovations have also tapped into the concept of gamified exercise, such as the popular app Zombie!Run and fitness and diet game Fitocracy. Apple has also hired a number of health experts such as Nike’s Jay Blahnik, as it develops its own fitness products.
Bond is considering opening other studios and or licensing the concept to other fitness clubs.
Versus patron Owen Davison was one of the early triallers of the technology and now goes to the gym two to three times a week.
“I was very surprised by how good it was compared to a Wii game or something like that.
“For my first session I brought a friend with me who I work with. I’m quite a competitive person so my first goal was to beat him on each of the activities... we managed four stations before he fell on the floor," he quipped.
Davison has lost 14kg since he started the exercise routine. Having never been a gym goer before, he said he enjoys the structured programs.
“I’ve brought my kids along to a few sessions too.
“They can often beat me on certain stations."