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‘Virtual Reality’ System on its Way to Z-Center

CycleScore integrates exercise machines with video game-like competition

By Ricarose Roque

Staff writer

Imagine yourself running at a steady pace on a steep slope only to be outrun by a runner to your left. Suddenly, a mass of runners passes by you. Shocked, disgusted, and being a competitive member of the MIT community, you quicken your pace. No, this scenario is not happening on your local neighborhood hill -- it is all occurring in the comfortable confines of the new Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, courtesy of CycleScore.

“The classic approach of exercise machines provide users with physiological monitors to check your heart rate and such,” said Harris A. Rabin G, a creator of CycleScore. “We want to make exercising more fun and engaging.”

For those of you who haven’t yet made the effort to become a part of the sweating and calorie-burning masses at the Z-Center, get ready to be enticed by CycleScore, a new iCampus project that combines the competitiveness of sport and the technology of gaming to transform the passive routine of working out in the gym.

With the help of a $30,000 grant from the Microsoft/MIT iCampus alliance, Rabin and his fellow CycleScore creators Doron Harlev G and Joseph Heitzeberg G are looking to create a more interactive and entertaining experience in hopes of encouraging more people to go to the gym. All three creators are Sloan students.

“With exercise, a person can deal with stress better and think more clearly,” Heitzeberg said. “We believe our project has the potential to enhance the collective brainpower of MIT.”

The team received the grant from iCampus last December and will initiate their project this February. It will continue through the rest of the year.

Z-Center: the next game system

The idea for the project started out from casual conversations about enhancing the gym experience, but the project soon evolved into higher-level concepts that involved changing the way people exercise.

“We all sat in a room together and brainstormed, comparing the qualities of playing a sport like basketball to the qualities of exercising on machines such as treadmills,” Heitzeberg said.

The team settled on a concept for their project to create a more appealing and motivational way to exercise, injecting into gyms the drive of competition.

“We plan to create a hardware and software system that will interface with existing exercise equipment such as treadmills and the cycle machines that allows you to compete in a sport-like fashion with other people in the gym,” Rabin said. “This allows a more immersive and interactive experience.”

To implement their project, the team has invited the help of Tim Moore, the general manager of the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, and the Kim B. Blair, director of the Center for Sports Innovation in the aeronautics and astronautics department. The team will also look for software and hardware engineers, including UROP students with the needed expertise.

“We will look exclusively into the MIT community to develop this project,” Rabin said.

Xbox enters the scene

For their first market study, the team will install the Xbox game system to a couple of cycle machines.

“We will first see how people interact with the game system while they exercise,” Heitzeberg said. “We then find out what kind of experience or activity is suited for that exercise.”

Initially, the Xbox system will simply include a TV, a game, the system, and controllers for the people to use while on the cycle machine.

“Later we will put those controllers aside and instead use the data to input information into the game from the machines, such as your speed, to control the outcome of the game,” Rabin said.

The Xbox will be set up on the second floor of the Z-Center as soon as possible, said Heitzeberg. The team will test different types of games and participants will have limitless play in exchange for filling out a survey.

System coming to a gym near you

“Eventually, we’d like our project to spread to fitness centers everywhere,” Heitzeberg said.

At the end of the project, the creators hope to develop final a product that can be used by other gyms.

“Most importantly, we want to see how people react to CycleScore,” Harlev said.

The team has also formed Students for Sports Innovation to gather students and faculty from all departments with an interest in sports technology. Working alongside Blair, the team hopes to organize a Sports Technology conference later this year.

“We want to attract like-minded people,” Heitzeberg said. “When we leave the Institute, we want projects like CycleScore to continue on.”