It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of flying in virtual reality – so when I had the opportunity to try out Icaros here at Viva Tech today, I was so ready to jump in. I honestly could not stop giggling throughout the experience, and it did not disappoint!
The Icaros device is meant to be used as an exercise tool, which focuses on training your muscles to stay better stabilized and balanced. Partnered with an HMD, the device connects over bluetooth and has a small custom control panel on the handle bar that allows you to interact with a flying experience.
While it took a bit of getting used to, I immediately was sold on the vision of having a device like the Icaros to increase immersion and entertainment for athletic training. The Icaros looks a bit intimidating at first sight, but I had a bit of time to get familiar with the device sans headset before diving into the VR experience that they provided.
To get onto (into?) the Icaros, which is adjustable for different heights, you start by climbing onto a metal bar at the back of the machine and kneeling on two of the four pads that hold you in place. From there, you lean forward and grasp the handle bars to rest your forearms on the other two pads, and are able to access the handles and controls.
Once you’re settled with the Icaros, it immediately becomes a challenge of staying balanced. Minor body movements have a big impact on the orientation of the device, and it’s not a familiar position or physical challenge, so I immediately felt my abs engage to stay in a mostly-horizontal position. The device has a pretty good range of motion, which became even more evident once I got into the HMD.
On the demo floor, Icaros had a sample app on the Gear VR that had you fly through rings over a mountain terrain. The controls on the device allowed you to speed up or slow down and provided a basic point+click mechanism, and the pitch of your head (amplified by being able to move your entire body via the balancing mechanic) was used to navigate you through the rings. I was also being interviewed at the time – check out the video below!
— VivaTechnologyParis (@VivaTech) June 15, 2017
I did about as well moving through the rings initially as I did when I’d play the hang glider in Pilot Wings 64, but quickly got familiar with the mechanic and began to learn how to use my body to move through the course a bit easier. While the lack of positional tracking on the GearVR left a bit to be desired, support for desktop devices (and presumably, updated tracking) appears to be coming later this year. It’s not quite a device for sensitive stomachs, but I didn’t feel any lingering effects even in the Gear. My vestibular and proprioceptive systems seemed to be occupied with the new sensation of getting closer to realistic flight.
If you get the chance to try out Icaros, and are up to challenge, I highly recommend giving it a go. Icaros is largely B2B right now, but mentioned that they’re looking at new iterations on the device for more consumer-friendly models that could some day end up as part of a home gym. They’d definitely have a spot in mine!
One thing that I really appreciated in the Icaros demo was that the launch menu took advantage of the passthrough camera on the Gear, which helped a lot with feeling securely oriented in the device before getting into full VR mode. I haven’t seen many other demos use that feature, but it helped significantly with unfamiliar hardware and I’d love to see other apps take advantage of blending that into new user experiences.
Have you tried any fitness VR experiences or devices that you really enjoyed? Would you make them a part of your regular workout routine? Let me know in the comments!