At the past FIBO five companies were recognised with the FIBO Innovation & Trend Award. Our series shows the people behind the award winners. Part of this award-winning game is Sphery and its ExerCube. This giant cube is designed to get couch potatoes off their backsides and leave behind their weaker selves. At the same time, fitness enthusiasts are to be offered a completely new and versatile form of training.
What happens when an avowed FIFA gamer is the better half of a sports scientist and game researcher from the Zurich University of Art? A promising start-up comes into being! Living proof: Sphery AG.
The idea: getting gamers off their couch.
“By developing ExerCube I wanted to do away with the prejudice that gaming is just for couch potatoes,” explains Anna Martin Niedecken. She has been working as a Senior Researcher specialising in Game Design at the Zürich University for seven years now and has initiated innovative research projects in the field of Serious Games. This is why it initially seemed rather unrealistic to develop her crazy idea into a proper business model. Anna was assisted in this endeavour by her husband Stephan – a finance specialist and FIFA fan – as well as by two colleagues from the fitness sector. “Dave is a movement scientist and personal trainer, Helko works in business development for the fitness market – the four of us form the core team”. March 2018 saw the start-up Sphery being established officially, and the quartet is still united by this calling they feel for their actual professions.
Anna Martin-Niedecken is a sports scientist and Senior Researcher specialising in Game Design at the Zürich University of Arts. In cooperation with three men she founded Sphery AG in 2018. The name is to refer to the sphere-like experience and to address both target groups: sportspeople and gamers.
The implementation: pulling out all the stops.
However, there are many other people involved in the development of the ExerCube. Product development is driven not only by various developers and international researchers but also by a close cooperation with the target group. “We have asked digital natives aged 16 to late 50 time and again what a really cool game and good training is all about,” says the sports scientist. The result was a game controlled by movements from fitness training. Users are coming up against various virtual obstacles that they have to react to by boxing moves, jumps, squats and the like. In 30 minutes users perform a functional, HIT work-out. “Users are extremely challenged in both physical and cognitive terms since they have to process visual and auditive stimuli,” says Anna, who “exercubes” herself every other day. And she never feels bored because the sequence of challenges is never the same. This not only sounds but also is exhausting, but the strain can be adjusted individually. “Gamers wear a heart-rate sensor so that the Cube can make sure the exertion is not too high or too low,” explains the researcher. Users or their trainers can preset whether the training should be high-intensity or rather endurance oriented. In each case sensors on the ankles and wrists check whether the movements are executed correctly.
The details: a virtual world in a real framework
The ExerCube is reminiscent of a cube – although strictly speaking a trapeze – and the name a combination of “cube” and “exercise”. It is 2.80 m high, 3 metres wide at the open end and 2.30 m deep. The walls are made of a soft, leatherette-clad material, reminiscent of a punching bag – after all, users should be able to strike hard. “We deliberately opted against the use of Virtual-Reality goggles. One of the main reasons being that with VR goggles you can only see your avatar but not your own extremities and can therefore not match movements. In the Cube this is possible and training subjects also receive tactile feedback. They can feel the punch against the Cube wall in their hands,” explains Anna. This also avoids so-called motion sickness – because many people feel sick when the virtual scenario does not fit the real body movements. Users can dive into the ExerCube environment in the truest sense of the word because three projectors project a virtual sci-fi underwater world onto the Cube walls.
Locations: so far Switzerland is the pioneer.
The first Cube ever was installed at a rehab-clinic in Switzerland. Interested parties can make an appointment for a trial training at various trade fairs and at the Sphery headquarters in Zürich. Costs: 30 franks, i.e. approx. EUR 27. “We are currently having numerous promising talks with fitness clubs, hotels, leisure parks and cruise ships. But also with people from the E-sports sectors,” reports the co-founder.
Costs: a new treadmill or an audience attraction?
Whoever buys an ExerCube will get it installed in the desired place. However, a change of place is possible since relevant instructions come with the Cube. “At present, we are working on a mobile version with fold-down walls and rolls, so that the Cube can also be set up in group fitness areas when there is no other class on,” says Anna. The current version as displayed at FIBO costs about EUR 20,000. This price includes the PC, the three projectors, the movement sensors, the heart-rate sensors and the sound system. “We want to keep costs as low as possible without compromising on quality. Club operators should reflect on whether they just want to get another treadmill or buy in a completely new attraction for their club members and address an entirely new group of customers,” remarks the CEO.
The future: standstill is not an option.
“We are extremely happy to have received the FIBO Innovation & Trend Award right away. But we know this is not the end of it,” stresses the scientist, and goes on to say: “We have to go full speed ahead especially for establishing the Cube on the market – and simultaneously drive the further development of the product. “This includes the possibility of loading new exercise versions such as yoga, which will be associated with a licence fee. Or the incentive to achieve the next level to delve into other exercise worlds. Also in the pipeline is an @Home version. Here the developers are thinking about inflatable parts or the incorporation of the users’ own TV sets. Curious? For updates and appointments go to News at the website www.sphery.ch.