HoloBike, a ‘Star Trek’-like holographic bicycle that could make Peloton obsolete

[Fast Company reports on a new stationary bicycle designed to evoke greater spatial presence and mental engagement in users than the currently available bikes. See the original story for two more images and two videos, and the product’s Kickstarter page for more information. Wired has a somewhat-less-than-enthusiastic review. –Matthew]

Woman riding HoloBike

This ‘Star Trek’-like holographic bicycle could make Peloton obsolete

The bike’s specialized display technology tricks your brain into thinking you’re actually riding outdoors.

By Jesus Diaz
May 10, 2024

Former Google VR researcher Samuel Matson spent the early days of COVID-19 in Colombia. There, he found solace while riding his bike with friends outside Medellín as the world descended into chaos. As the landscape of the Andes mountains zoomed by, he focused on the road pavement, becoming fascinated by the way time just disappeared while cycling.

“My mind could wander and three hours would be gone like that,” he tells me via email. But whenever he used the stationary bike in the gym, just 10 minutes seemingly warped into 10 hours of boredom.

That’s when he thought that perhaps there could be a much better way to build a stationary bike—one that would create that same feeling as traveling through real space. He wanted to put people into that Andes-like magical time-warping dimension within the confines of their homes, just like Picard and Riker used to do in the Holodeck aboard the Enterprise. He claims his new invention, the HoloBike (recently launched on Kickstarter), does just that.

The Psychology of Outdoor Exercise at Home

After returning to his home state of California, Matson developed a prototype of the HoloBike by wiring an old 1987 Schwinn Varsity bike frame to a 3D display that used eye tracking to give you the illusion of looking through a magical portal into another reality.

It really worked. Since the very first demo he gave of the earliest prototype in his Santa Monica workshop, it was clear to Matson and others that the HoloBike tapped into that meditative sense of moving through space.

“This phenomenon known as optic flow is at the core of what makes training outdoors so invigorating,” he says. “In fact, it is the basis for a branch of psychology known as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).” (A side note: While the use of EMDR in psychology therapies like treating trauma disorders is quite extended among some therapists—and it has become quite popular thanks to celebrities using it—other scientists remain skeptical about it because there are no definitive studies that prove its effect.)

How It Works

Matson’s company, Saga, worked with London-based design studio Layer’s founder Benjamin Hubert and his team to create the stationary bike. It’s an elegant and minimalistic black-and-white frame. It uses bright-orange accents to mark the levels and buttons that serve to adjust its shape. Hubert and his team crafted the bike’s ergonomic frame to support a variety of body types and riding styles, accommodating riders from 4 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 4 inches in height. The design takes cues from high-performance road bikes, Layer says, offering an athletic and comfortable riding stance.

This design is crowned by a panoramic and stereoscopic 27-inch screen that provides a wide field of view at 4K resolution. It is a light-field display, a technology that shows high-resolution 3D imagesthat don’t require goggles of any kind, not even polarized glasses. The sense of depth is directly visible to the naked eye.

From the beginning, his experience as a VR expert told Matson that using a headset was the wrong solution for the experience he wanted to replicate. “They’re heavy, sweaty, the lenses fog—not to mention the nausea, especially when simulating cycling motion,” he says. And he’s right. Even the most advanced VR goggles are not good for sports, and probably not good for anything else. As the Apple Vision Pro debacle and Meta Oculus crashing sales show, this is a form factor that most people just don’t want.

But that’s only one part of the three-part formula that Matson and his team came up with to truly create the parallel dimension that appears to live inside that screen.

“The big issue from a user experience point of view is that the prerecorded video is boring,” Matson says. Unlike traditional static bikes like the Peloton—which rely on prerecorded video content—the HoloBike utilizes volumetric scans of real-world landscapes to generate its environments. It actually navigates these three-dimensional worlds, which are rendered in real time by a powerful 20-teraflop Nvidia graphic processor to align with the rider’s pedaling speed and viewing angle.

The Parallax Effect

However, the key part to make it all click for the user’s brain is its front-facing stereo camera, which uses artificial intelligence to track the position of the rider’s eyes with submillimeter accuracy, allowing the screen to adapt to the user’s gaze. Knowing what the position of the eyes is in relation to the screen, the computer can actually change the screen so that the rider’s brain perceives it as a window to another dimension.

This creates a parallax effect, Matson says. So when you move your head right or left, up or down, the landscape perspective in the HoloBike screen changes in a way that your brain buys that it is a real thing. Combined with the ultra-high resolution of the display, this effectively creates the sense of presence and immersion. This is not a new concept: You can see how 3D parallax works in this demonstration from 2007.

It’s just the same as with the HoloBike, but by using a true 3D display combined with an eye-tracking AI, the volumetric landscape captures, and the Nvidia graphic processor to create a perfectly believable parallax effect, making it all feel as though the virtual landscapes are extending beyond the confines of the monitor.

Motion Feedback

Then there are the pedals, which use a “dynamic electromagnetic resistance” to create a kind of haptic feedback effect that adjusts the feeling of your feet according to the virtual terrain you’re riding. This means that riders experience resistance changes that mimic real outdoor conditions, such as uphill climbs or downhill coasts, enhancing the realism of the workout.

“That’s how they are able to tap into the phenomenon of optic flow to simulate the benefit of outdoor exercise in an indoor environment,” Matson says.

The HoloBike is available for preorder now, with prices starting at $2,600. Saga promises that it will deliver your very own piece of the Star Trek-ish future of indoor cycling this winter.


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