Not many people can say that they’ve cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats. Aaron Puzey did it in his free time…sort of. In fact he never left the front room of his house as his was a virtual reality expedition across the length of Britain on an exercise bike.
Hailing from Australia but now living in Dundee where he works in video game development, Aaron found that he was getting bored during his daily work out routine on the indoor bike. “To be honest I’m someone who finds exercising quite boring. I just cannot be bothered and I found staring at the wall as I pedalled away mind-numbing.”
He then had the light bulb moment of using Google maps’ street view to recreate the impression of cycling through a real street so he had something to look at rather than that blank wall. He designed an app which was connected by bluetooth to a sensor attached to his pedals and a virtual reality headset, allowing him to cycle through anywhere he wanted to on Google maps. He could adjust his speed through this virtual world by changing his pedalling cadence.
To give himself an even greater goal and variety of virtual landscape he decided to take on the classic cycling challenge of Lands End to John O’Groats. It took him eight months to complete the virtual journey in 50 minute sessions in his free time. On January 13th he arrived at his destination in the company of BBC Scotland who he invited into his sitting room to witness the last five minutes of his very long bike ride. It had taken him 85 hours in which he had covered some 900 miles.
He has been regularly posting videos and still pictures of what he has seen through his VR headset on the way: bizarre houses, a street scuffle, iron age remains, castles, runaway cows, street demonstrations and even roadkill.
It’s been quite an experience. He says, “It’s not reality, but it feels like you’re somewhere. When I’m visiting these places I get a good impression of what it’s like to be there and I’d quite like to go and visit some of these places for real sometime.”
As someone who doesn’t enjoy exercise he found it helped him enjoy what he previously regarded as a chore and he burned off 50,000 calories in the process without even noticing.
He’s now thinking about where to go to next. While much of Africa and China remain uncharted, he says that a massive part of the globe has been covered by Google maps. It’s possible to cross the entire country of Russia, for instance. He’s tempted to make a similar trip across Japan as it’s somewhere he’s always wanted to visit. However he has put his next challenge up to the public for suggestions and you can contact him via his facebook page with any bright ideas you might have.
Obviously, as a video game developer who works on mobile apps, he can see that there may well be an opportunity to market a product so that we can all cycle through a virtual world in the same way. He says he’s been inundated by people getting in touch wanting to go on their own VR adventures. As a result he is about to launch a kickstarter campaign for his ‘CycleVR’ which will be a complete virtual reality cycling kit.
As it is, his app needs a fair bit of refining and he is interested to hear from anyone who has any ideas about features they would like included such as a resistance monitor to cycle up hills, for instance.
He would love to develop it so that people can communicate with each other as ‘multiplayers’. While there are programes like Zwift that offer this kind of interactive element, the player is bound by the constraints that have been created for it. Aaron’s app, with the help of Google maps, allows you to go almost anywhere in the world.
Other ideas are to share favourite routes with friends, including tourist information of what you’re cycling past and including games to play with or against friends while you cycle.
Here at Ride Velo we think it’s a great idea and we’ll be watching how his project develops. But, in terms of his next trip, the best challenge we can think of is to complete this year’s Tour de France route. See if you can beat Froomey!