New Virtual Reality: A Running Buddy While Social Distancing

By Taylor Walton

SPECIAL TO NEWS TALK FLORIDA

If you are a frequent runner you have definitely experienced a “Runner’s High” as those endorphins get flowing well into your run. But, you have also experienced moments of boredom as well. New Talks Florida talks with the entrepreneur, a new VR enhanced device that wants to change the way you run. More importantly, it also hopes to offer improved results for runners. Ghost Pacer is starting a Kickstarter on August 5th at 10:00 AM ET for the next stage of their product.

Q: Why does anyone need a virtual runner, what’s wrong with just listening to music on the headphones. How does runner’s experience better?

A: We came up with the Ghost Pacer in part because we found that

existing fitness trackers and tools (including audio-based ones) don’t do a

good enough job of pushing you while you are working out or helping you adjust your speed in real-time. While it’s not always easy to understand what a six-minute mile pace feels like, it is easy to chase down and try to stick with a person (or in this case a hologram) that is running at that pace. The Ghost Pacer allows users to stay on pace in a way that can’t be replicated by reading a number off of a smartwatch or trying to pace along to a song.

Q: What can you tell me about how this product was developed and

where you came from?

A: My teammates and I started this project when we were students

at Lakeside High School (the alma mater of both Bill Gates and Paul Allen) in Seattle. I began working on this the summer after my sophomore year, when I was training for the upcoming cross country season. Together, alongside a group of my close friends who were passionate about running and technology, we built the Ghost Pacer workout experience to be one that was ‘made by runners for runners’.

 I came up with the idea for the Ghost Pacer in the summer of 2017 when I was on a run, training for the upcoming cross country season. I had a certain target pace in mind, but even with my phone calling out my mile splits, I just couldn’t push myself to go fast enough. I realized I never had this problem when I was running alongside other people but, because of how busy my teammates were, virtually all of my runs were being done on my own.

So when I got home from that run that day, I had a thought: what if I could build the ultimate training partner? One that I could train with anywhere, at any time, that would always push me to stay on target. That idea became the Ghost Pacer- a set of mixed reality glasses that generated a holographic avatar that I could race against outdoors in real-time.

Over the next three years, with the guidance of many leaders in

the running and AR/VR industries, my teammates and I went through hundreds of iterations of the product to create what is now the Ghost Pacer – a sleek, lightweight workout partner that we can’t wait to get into the hands of runners everywhere.

Q: How has Corona impacted your development of this product. Given

that we are all social-distancing these days, is this product helpful for us to get the same benefits of running with a partner but using an app instead?

A: The COVID-19 pandemic set our timeline back by a few months, as it shut down some supply chains and key components we were relying on. Thankfully, we have since been able to solve the technical problems that arose and get back on track but there were definitely a few tense weeks as we worked through the issues.

With social distancing, running with a partner in person has become largely infeasible. The Ghost Pacer allows users to train independently,

but still get the competitive benefits of training with a real partner.

Moreover, with the Ghost Pacer, users can still train with each other, even if they can’t run together in person. Using the Ghost Pacer mobile app, a user can race against an avatar that mimics a friend’s path and speed from a previous workout. Because we have integrated the Ghost Pacer with the popular running app, Strava, you can even “race” with a friend that doesn’t have the Ghost Pacer glasses themselves. Users will be able to maintain a competitive edge and bragging rights!

Q: What do you see as some future applications for VR? What are

some of the trends in this market?

A: In the near future, as AR/VR technology and wearables become

cheaper and more accessible, I predict that we will see more focused

application of the technology rather than general use products. General AR/VR platforms tend to be too bulky, convoluted, and expensive, mostly because of the sheer amount of processing power and technology that developers have to pack into each headset. More focused applications of mixed reality technology, however, tend to be more streamlined and better suited for consumer use.

In our case, with the Ghost Pacer, the entire headset was just designed to provide the optimal running experience. By focusing on this application, we didn’t face the usual constraints of a more heavy-duty headset, allowing us to achieve a comfortable, lightweight headset that runners could actually use.

Eventually, I think that more general wearable platforms will be

able to take hold as technology allows headsets to become lighter without

sacrificing power and capability. In the short- to medium-term, however, I

think AR/VR will become increasingly prevalent in more specific industries such as fitness, medicine, training, and gaming.

Q: For people who are interested in any of those industries, how do you suggest we can stay up to date in this field. Are there any news sites, podcasts, or twitter accounts to follow?

A: I mostly rely on the larger tech publications such as TechCrunch and Wired who are increasingly covering this industry as it gains in importance. To stay up to date regarding the running world and about new gear and products for training, I recommend both Runner’s World and Athletics Weekly.

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News Talk Florida Staff