Black Box VR – Defining the 21 Century Gym Experience

360 Immersive had the pleasure in discussing Black Box VR’s revolutionary new Virtual Reality based gym system. It is the world’s first full-fitness VR workouts and is set to be one of the most innovative approaches to a gym experience in recent years. Preston Lewis, COO and Co-founder discusses Black Box VR, the new product, and the industry that it will create.

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My name is David Cleverdon with 360 Immersive. Today, I have the absolute pleasure of talking to Preston Lewis, who is COO and a cofounder of Black Box VR. Black Box VR is a new company that is developing a revolutionary product, but also starting a complete new industry.
Preston, tell us a little bit about the history behind Black Box, how you came into the world of virtual reality. Give us that history and where you’re going.

Preston Lewis: Sure. Well, thanks for having me. So, my background is I basically worked at Bodybuilding.com for 8 years, and my cofounder, Ryan Deluca, founded Bodybuilding.com 17 years ago, and he and I worked together on all the innovation projects at Bodybuilding.com. So, we were always trying to solve the one not-so-simple goal, and that was to try to create tools that help people stick to their health and fitness goals, and to achieve those goals.
So, we worked on BodySpace, obviously the website content, but BodySpace, we had about 3 million users, and we were always trying to figure out how can we use the technology we had then, which was basically your mobile phone, a website, to really give them the tools that they needed to succeed. So, we built workout trackers, the community, social elements, and stuff, and that was very successful.
And then, at the same time, we got our hands on a DK2. The first one I looked at was the DK2, which was – Oculus basically started with the DK1. They ran a Kickstarter. I didn’t try that one.

David Cleverdon: So, these are virtual reality headsets?

Preston Lewis: Yes.

David Cleverdon: They allow you to use immersive technology to feel like you’re in a space.

Preston Lewis: Exactly. So, the DK1 by Oculus was basically like a cell phone just kind of strapped into a headset and basically bends the scene around you, and you can look around, and you’re immersed in that. It was very rudimentary, but it was a start.
And so, the first one I tried was the second version of that, which was the DK2, and I tried the roller coaster experience. I was just blown away by the amount of immersion it offered. And so, Ryan and I had been talking, and we had left Bodybuilding.com, and basically said, “Hey, this VR technology is pretty interesting. Let’s just put our heads together and figure out how we can take this VR technology and create something compelling in fitness, still around the same goal we always had,” which was trying to give people the tools to achieve their health and fitness goals. And that’s kind of where Black Box VR came from, the initial idea.

David Cleverdon: So, in looking at not only starting a new product, but, literally, you’re talking about a whole new industry, there’s a lot of work behind it, a lot of magic, we’ll say. In fact, what I’d like to do for the viewing audience right now is we’d like to run your promotional video. I love it. It’s absolutely where you’re at. It doesn’t give away too much.

Preston Lewis: Mm-hmm, teases it.

David Cleverdon: And so, go ahead and roll the video please.

David Cleverdon: So, wow. I mean, if that doesn’t get you excited about working out, and nobody is excited about working out. I know you can’t give away a lot of the magic – it’s product development – but give us the nuts and bolts. Take us through what people will experience using your product.

Preston Lewis: So, in that teaser, you can kinda see it says “Next Level.” It kinda hints at the game experience. And so, the big thing we wanna do is we know that someone is gonna go off, and anytime we tell people the idea, they think, “Oh, cool. So, I can ride my bike through the Alps,” or, “I’m gonna have the trainer in the room with me,” which is great, but that’s not what we’re gonna do. Someone’s gonna do that, but what we really believe in is resistance training for all ages, building that lean muscle mass that really keeps people healthy. For older women, it can actually help fight osteoporosis and increase bone density and things like that.
And so, resistance training, for us, has always been one of the biggest things we like to advocate. But fitness is, like you said, it’s boring. It’s literally not immediate pleasure. Like you think about games, games are kind of like that immediate pleasure and fitness is that immediate pain and delayed results. You don’t get those results till two, three, four weeks later.
And so, for us, we basically have just been chewing on the idea of if you can create an immersive game experience, which can only be enabled by VR, because everyone’s creating these TV screens and things like that, but we wanna create that immersive experience and pair that with actual resistance training, which is what we’re developing, then you could get one of the best workouts of your life and also have fun while you’re doing it.
And so, the technology is essentially, like you said, without giving too much away, is a cable-resistance machine, and that cable-resistance machine that we’re inventing actually runs through a Unity VR game engine.
And so, in real time, anything that happens in the game to you, whether it’s a ship or a zombie or whatever is coming at you, you go and you reach out to shut a door, or to grab a lever on something, you’re actually grabbing on a real handle in the real world, and you’re doing a real movement that’s under resistance. And so, versus in the gym right now, you go to the weight stack. You put the pin in. You’re like, “Okay, all right.” You do a couple reps, look at your watch. You’re bored. You never come back, and you’re sore, and it’s just not fun.
So, the idea is to pair the virtual reality immersive elements with this haptic resistance machine.

David Cleverdon: And we all know that everybody should work out. Everybody should have an exercise regimen. Everybody should. That’s what we should do. So, you’ve actually taken away the negatives and made it fun, and that may be a new tagline for you – “Exercise is finally fun.”
So, will it be available for home use or in gyms? How can people, once this is finished, how can they experience it?

Preston Lewis: So, we’re still actually going through that process and looking at the business models. It’s all gonna depend on one of our challenges, obviously, where the headset technology is, the current cost in the market of VR technology, and the accessibility to that.
And so, one of the first things we’ve talked about is in a gym, like basically having our own gym. So, you’d have a private Black Box gym, and you kinda saw it in the video. You noticed there was a hallway. And this isn’t final by any means, but there was a hallway where there had different individual doors.
Well, the other thing that’s tough with gyms is privacy. You go in there. Maybe people are watching you. Maybe you feel insecure about the movements you’re doing. Maybe you haven’t worked out in a while. And so, what we’re really looking to do is something more like a, I guess we say, like the Universal Studios type of an experience or the tanning salon type of experience where you actually go into your own 10-by-10 room that would have one of these haptic machines, and, in that sense, you’d be able to have the privacy, have temperature control, and maybe even eventually scents and certain things that are actually paired with that experience to make it even more immersive.
But the point you bring up about fitness being so boring, we joke in the office all the time about how the dumbbell basically hasn’t changed since 500 BC. It’s literally you go to the gym and you’re lifting rocks. They’re just rocks on a handle, right? They’re shaped a little bit nicer, but you’re literally just lifting rocks up and down.
And so, for us, with this cable machine, it can actually track every single movement you do, and your acceleration, the curvature of the rep you’re doing, and with automated insights and artificial intelligence and algorithms, it can actually progress you to whatever level you’re at in fitness.

David Cleverdon: So, you get that positive feedback of achieving something in the short term. And frankly, whether people play games or not, they know about the addictive nature of a game. Well, why not apply it to something that’s actually really good for you? And that’s really what it is.

Preston Lewis: Absolutely. We also joke about how you play “World of Warcraft,” and I have no bad things to say about “World of Warcraft,” as far as the game. It’s an amazing game, and you have millions of people playing it, but you’re at Level 60 in the game, which is great. You’re this mega-warlord, whatever, Level 60, and sometimes, you’re at Level 0 in life, right? You’ve got Cheetos on your shirt, and you’ve sunk so many hours into this game, and the physical benefits of that just aren’t there.
And so, one of the things that we’re really passionate about with Black Box and that’s powered by virtual reality technology is this idea of you actually being a one-for-one representation inside the game as an avatar, as well as outside of the game. And so, in Black Box, if you’re a Level 60 in the game, and you step out of the Black Box, and I look at you, you will be a Level 60 in real life because you’re not pushing a controller. In Black Box, your body actually is the controller.
So, you’re doing a wood chop. It’s actually under resistance. You’re doing a press. It’s under resistance. So, you get out of there, and you kinda saw in the video, you’ll be sweating, you’ll be tired, and you’ll increase your cardiovascular health, your lean muscle mass, and all those vitals.

David Cleverdon: So, when we talk about a revolutionary type of new industry, that’s what you guys are doing. So, how soon do you think that you’ll be ready? And I know you get that a lot, and it’s hard to answer in a startup.

Preston Lewis: It is, and we’re learning new things every single day. Some of the challenges have been just the headset technology that’s available. A lot of people ask us, “Oh, well, you have this thing on your face. How does that feel to work out?” They’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’ve ever done that or I would ever do that,” and I’m like, “Well, have you been skiing? Have you ever played football? Have you played lacrosse?” There’s all of these kind of things exist in sports and athletics today where you’re actually doing physical movements and activities, but the better those get, the better it’s gonna be for us.
And so, we have a lot of solutions where we’re using the VR cover to manage sweat and things like that, but the tracking systems themselves are always changing. So, a big challenge we have, as far as the launch date, is just what’s the cost gonna be, what’s the form factor of the headsets. And we’ve been just learning this new base-station Lighthouse technology that HTC Vive has been using to really not get grey-outs, not get certain blurring or judder and things like that.
All that to say, we plan on doing a university study starting in about three weeks because the other thing that we fully believe in is making sure that the product is validated. We have our hypothesis, and we don’t wanna go out there and just be like, “Okay, just trust us. Our moms love it.” We wanna actually have university-backed studies saying that the results in VR fitness are actually better than your typical workout in the gym. So, the study starts in about four weeks. That’s an eight-week study. It may be great to launch at the end of this year, but we don’t know for sure yet.

David Cleverdon: So, thank you for joining us. If you’re looking for something that will improve your life, it will keep you from, essentially, maybe looking like you haven’t been in the gym, check out Black Box VR. They are an up-and-comer as far as not only a product but as a whole new industry. Preston, thank you.

Preston Lewis: Thank you very much.