FitXR: AI and better tracking should improve VR fitness training
Virtual Reality fitness is booming in relation to the growth of the VR market as a whole. FitXR CEO Sam Cole thinks AI and better tracking will soon make VR fitness training more efficient.
For FitXR CEO Sam Cole, virtual training is just getting started and will soon become even more efficient with the integration of wearables, artificial intelligence, and new VR headsets.
Gyms have boomed tremendously over the last twenty years. Then came the pandemic that caused millions of people to cancel their fitness subscriptions. Lockdowns and work-from-home jobs changed daily routines, and virtual reality fitness apps boomed.
VR fitness benefits from changing habits
"Historically, you'd have your home, your office, and your gym. The degree of separation that you got between those different physical environments was often really important for people," says Cole. "I think with the pandemic, people started to merge home and work, and then people also started to merge home, work, and gym."
Sam Cole is CEO and founder of FitXR. In 2016, he and his team released BoxVR, the first VR game designed from the ground up as a fitness app. In a virtual environment, users could complete workouts created by real fitness instructors in virtual reality.
With the pandemic, the fitness app business began to boom. Facebook, now a Meta company, announced at the time that fitness apps were particularly popular during the pandemic. For BoxVR developers, the increased popularity led to $6.3 million in new investments.
VR game becomes a virtual gym
In 2020, BoxVR received a major upgrade and went from VR game to VR gym. The development team overhauled the app from the ground up, introducing live fitness workouts with other users, avatars of personal trainers, and additional workout types like dancing and HIIT.
The innovations were initially not well received, and FitXR was punished by users with negative reviews. However, the reason was not the technical implementation. BoxVR and its DLCs could be purchased for a one-time fee. With the upgrade to FitXR also came the switch to a subscription model and a monthly cost of $9.99. The VR game BoxVR, on the other hand, disappeared from Meta Quest 2.
The initial rejection subsided over time, and FitXR became more and more successful. With regular updates, new content and events, and ever-improving accessibility, a dedicated, enthusiastic community formed around FitXR.
VR courses could be taught by live instructors in the future
The team of personal trainers is also constantly growing. Zion Clark, a professional wrestler born without legs, offers training sessions for people with physical disabilities. FitXR was able to sign up Nicola Adams, a professional boxer and Olympic gold medal winner.
VR courses could be led live by instructors in the future. In the near future, instructors could even be present in person at the VR studio. According to Cole, testing is already underway for workout classes to be led live. "We've got the technology to support that, we just need to figure out a full go-to-market strategy about when's relevant to launch something like that."
FitXR: workout feedback through artificial intelligence
Still, Cole sees more potential in recorded courses. These would become more efficient with the improved motion capture of upcoming VR headsets and the use of artificial intelligence. In the future, FitXR should be able to provide fitness feedback based on players' movements.
"It starts to blur the boundaries between this is an avatar talking to me and this is all pre-recorded, but it's giving me specific prompts based on how I'm playing. It feels more like it is live feedback," says Cole.
AI systems "are getting better and better every day", according to Cole. In addition, new headsets with additional tracking cameras should bring better arm and lower torso tracking. "Soon you will have almost full body positional data from the headsets," Cole says.
FitXR experience to be enhanced by AR, mobile app, and wearables
FitXR has just released a companion app for iOS and Android that allows users to track their progress, create workout plans, or define fitness goals on their smartphones. For FitXR's CEO, this is an important step into the future.
"We think of ourselves as focused around everything from virtual reality to augmented reality, [and] mobile does open up some interesting augmented reality opportunities," Cole says.
FitXR has gained many new customers through word of mouth, he says. The CEO believes this is due to the experiential nature of the VR app. With the smartphone, he says that experience can be extended. FitXR is also working with Apple and Strava on integration for wearables.
"I love this vision where you go through a hard run today and then tomorrow you boot up FitXR. We welcome you into the experience, congratulate you for going for a run, and we tailor the whole class recommendation based on how you went for a run," Cole said.
FitXR CEO expects VR headset sales to increase tenfold
Cole announced in a recent interview that the number of subscribers to the fitness app has quadrupled in the last twelve months. This success is all the more remarkable considering that Corona's lockdowns and hygiene measures have noticeably decreased over the past year and gyms are once again fully accessible.
For Cole, this growth is just the beginning. He believes VR headset sales will increase tenfold in the next three years. The releases of the PlayStation VR 2, Apple's first VR headset, the Meta Quest Pro (Cambria) and the Pico Neo 4 (Pro) from TikTok owner Bytedance could help the market grow again.
If you want to learn more about the effectiveness of VR Fitness, you should take a look at my multipart self-test: Earlier this year, I started a VR Fitness self-test and signed up for an annual subscription with FitXR. This much in advance: VR Fitness is a viable choice for regular workouts at home.