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Can Virtual Reality Provide an Authentic Biking Experience?

Can Virtual Reality Provide an Authentic Biking Experience?

It is fair to say that many of the technologies we only dreamt about 20 years ago are now becoming a reality. Take for example the box office success Tron. How many people thought it would be cool to ride a virtual reality computer bike? Now you can, and not only ride one, but ride a bike that replicates a mountain bike travelling across varying terrains.

Mindgrub’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Bike

Using a combination of a real bike and some smart software that recreates the actual experience of pedalling on rough terrain, a company called Mindgrub has developed an Oculus Rift-ready virtual bike.

The centre of the virtual reality bike is an Arduino board, which is built with reed switches that open and close to recreate actual biking in cyber space. The technology is able to measure how fast the wheels are spinning, which is directly fed back to the screen that the user is viewing.

The experience is made more natural thanks to the magnets that are installed on the physical bike. The magnets make sure that the pedalling motion is in sync with the real movements of the wheel with the timing of the virtual bike.

The Bike’s Steering

Without manipulating the bike, users would be passing through walls or hovering over rivers. Steering Mindgrub’s virtual bike present hazards just like in real life.

In order to make steering realistic, the virtual bike uses micro-switches on the frame to facilitate right and left turns. In addition, pieces of equipment called potentiometer and variable resistors were attached to the handlebars to create friction when braking. An aluminium bracket is responsible for engaging a few rubber bumpers, both of which are attached to the neck of the bike to allow movement for steering while the user is wearing the Oculus Rift headset.

Programming the Virtual Terrain

Unity’s Uniduino, which is commonly used for powering Oculus Rift demos, was a key component for making the VR bike more immersive. It was the same technology used in creating Tomb Raider VR when it was first unveiled in 2016.

The Tomb Raider VR title was a massive success thanks to its seamless integration with the Unity engine. The game’s VR version was a direct result of the global appreciation for the film franchise that made its bow through a videogame back in 1996 and then reached the silver screen in 2001 when Angelina Jolie brought to life Lara Craft for the first time. Since then the franchise has created Tomb Raider slot games as well as a number of other videogames and there will be a new movie out in 2018 starring Alicia Vikander as the fearless Croft. Tomb Raider’s use of the Unity engine is proof that the platform works, and Uniduino helps tremendously with setting the right mood for the games.

After using a pre-constructed city from the Unity 3D Store, Mindgrub was able to create a virtual city modified to give an authentic biking atmosphere.

So can Virtual Reality provide an authentic biking experience? With the recent advancements in VR, there’s probably only a small gap now between what’s real and not. Watch this space…

(image credit: Mindgrub)

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