With this fitness equipment you can fly

With this fitness equipment you can fly

Jörg flies over a snowy mountain landscape. He slightly shifts the center of gravity of his body forward and goes into a dive, in front of him opens a narrow gorge, like a labyrinth, through which he must steer, laying down with his weight in the turns.

Jörg does not wear wings on his arms, nor a parachute on his back, but only glasses on his eyes. The flight takes place only in virtual reality. For all bystanders, Jörg’s flight insert looks quite strange: he lies with his forearms and rail legs on a frame made of white steel, which can be moved in all directions – and tries to keep his balance.

As soon as the frame tilts, Jörg also makes a flight movement in the same direction in the virtual world. After just under five minutes, he descends again-and is quite exhausted. “I didn’t think it was that exhausting,” he says.

Inventors attend one fair after another

This is quite intentional, because the white frame with the name “Icaros” should not only be a toy, but the first virtual reality fitness equipment. Icaros was invented by the two Munich industrial designers Johannes Scholl, 28, and Michael Schmidt, 48.

It all started with an idea for Scholl’s thesis: a device on which you train different muscle groups and which is fun at the same time because you can fly through virtual worlds. The idea in 2011 has become a start-up with a production-ready model, which will be delivered to the first customers from March.

And the interest in Icaros is great. Scholl and Schmidt have just returned from Las Vegas, where they were allowed to show their device at the important Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Now they are at the Munich digital conference DLD, where Jörg is also completing his test flight, from Sunday visitors to the sports fair ISPO Icaros can test.

The Munich-based company has already won the prize for the best novelty at the trade fair. “We are faced with the challenge that young people in particular are no longer sufficiently active,” says Messe CEO Klaus Dittrich. “You have to think of new ways to pick up young people for sport where they are, and that is often a virtual world today.“

Experts expect the breakthrough of technology

If you put on one of the VR glasses, you have the feeling that you are in the middle of a world invented by the programmers and can move freely in it. Depending on which direction you look, the world in the glasses also moves.

So far, there are almost only prototypes of these VR glasses, but experts expect the breakthrough for the technology in 2016, including the Oculus Rift, which belongs to Facebook, on the market, Samsung is also relying on virtual worlds with the Gear.

Experts believe that virtual reality will gradually conquer and change many areas of life. It probably starts with the video games, but soon the gyms could follow. Some other companies are also already working on devices on which the user should climb with VR glasses.

But as far as Icaros, most competitors are not yet. In Norway, the start-up Ebove is tinkering with a mountain bike with which you can ride through virtual worlds. The device is expected to cost 6,000 to 8,000 dollars, and the Norwegians plan to deliver from the summer of this year-but initially only in Scandinavia.

“Birdly” lets users fly like a bird

The operators of the fitness app Runtastic, which was bought by Adidas last year, are also experimenting with virtual worlds. However, apart from the glasses, you do not need an additional device, but the program consists of a virtual trainer, which pre-exercises the user.

“We see great potential here,” says Runtastic founder Florian Gschwandtner. “Movements and exercises can be optimally demonstrated, which minimizes injuries and increases the fun and motivation factor.“

Much more similar to the Icaros is a device called “Birdly”, on which a team of Swiss is working. Here, too, the user should be able to fly through landscapes like a bird, but is completely on the device and does not have to keep the body in balance.

In addition, the Birdly is controlled by motors, while Icaros relies on pure mechanics. “We don’t get into this,” Icaros founder Michael Schmidt believes.

Designed for continuous use

In any case, Icaros has a decisive advantage: You can already buy it. The first series of 50 copies, which the start-up has produced by a company in the Allgäu, is almost gone.

And this despite the fact that an Icaros is not exactly cheap. The frame costs 7,500 euros including VR glasses and the first programmed flying worlds. Amusement parks in particular have already ordered and should receive the first copies from March, says Schmidt. The founders also want to win gyms for the expensive version of the Icaro.

Because the high price is mainly due to the fact that the devices are designed for permanent use in parks and studios, where one user after another rises to it, says Schmidt. But he wants to soon bring a much cheaper variant for home on the market, which should then cost about 2000 euros – a quite competitive price in the home trainer market.

However, anyone who wants to put their own Icaros in the living room will have to be patient. “We don’t yet know exactly how soon the home version will be available,” says Scholl. “We don’t put the pressure on ourselves and say: We have to be on the market for the next Christmas.“

More virtual worlds planned for Icaros

How quickly the small company can grow will also depend on how the financing continues. Scholl and Schmidt have so far paid for the development of the Icaro almost exclusively with money from family and friends. According to Schmidt, a total of 300,000 euros have been invested in the company so far, but Icaros is now planning a second financing round for further growth, and there are already initial discussions with interested investors.

“We could also grow organically with the money we earn by selling the first copies,” says Schmidt. However, he hopes for additional money to advance faster and thus maintain the lead in the market of virtual fitness equipment.

We have deliberately created the software openly

In addition to the actual device, Scholl and Schmidt also want to develop further virtual worlds for the Icaros. “Soon there will be underwater and space scenarios,” says Scholl. But other developers should also be able to offer their own programs for the Icaros. “We intentionally created the software openly,” says Schmidt. Worlds that are much closer to video games are also possible. Already built into the Icaros are buttons, with which, for example, weapons could be fired in games.

Nevertheless, the focus of the Icaros should be on sports. In the team of Scholl and Schmidt, a sports student is now also working, an orthopaedic surgeon has looked at the attitude of the users on the device and declared it harmless. By balancing on the Icaros, almost all muscle groups should be trained, especially the abdominal and shoulder muscles are stressed.

“If you are experienced, you can also train for more than half an hour at a time on the Icaros,” says Schmidt. “And just because it’s a piece of sports equipment doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun.“

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