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VUB: Brand new virtual reality box for pioneering research into virtual sports

Innovations will make sports in virtual world possible

Research into sports in virtual reality (VR) will soon start at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. It will be carried out via a new VR box: a high-tech room in which athletes are connected to digital technologies. As well as scientists, VUB students and staff can try out this innovative way of keeping fit. The project will be realised with the association BRAVR SPORT.

VR sports are still in their infancy, but with big players like Facebook and Microsoft investing heavily, headsets are becoming cheaper and better, which will accelerate their popularity. The development of free roaming VR headsets – where users are not connected to a PC by a wire so can move around freely – opens up more options for VR sports. VR makes up only 2% of the gaming industry, which is larger than the movie and music industries combined, but that’s rising quickly. There were 68 million VR headsets sold in 2020, up from 5 million in 2016.

Marc Sarens, VR expert at VUB, explains: “VR hardware is experiencing a rapid rise. Headsets are better and more affordable nowadays, but for multiple players to do sports in a room, good tracking is also needed. Instead of more expensive systems with wall sensors, we want to use tracking built into the floor in the VR box. We have already invested €15,000 in the project: the headsets and screens have been bought and the space is ready.”

Researching sports with VR

The VR box will be used for scientific research, among other things. A research group will be established to carry out studies on sports using virtual and augmented reality. Two studies will be set up, conducted by doctoral students. The main focus will be on the added value of VR sports. Various target groups will be addressed, including adults, children, seniors and people with disabilities. Topics include what effect sports in VR has on people with disabilities, and a comparison between VR sports and more traditional sports such as squash.

At the same time, a VR sports club will be established at VUB to investigate to what extent the public might take up VR sports. VR team sports have not been studied before.

Virtual sports games

VUB also offers its staff and students the opportunity to play virtual sports, focusing mainly on activities in which the participants are physically active in VR. Examples are individual games such as Beat Saber, The Thrill of the Fight, FitXR and Creed: Rise to Glory. Group games will also be offered such as Hyperball, a multiplayer game created at VUB that is being developed with support from Sport Vlaanderen and will be tested extensively at VUB. The VR box will be put into use once the public health situation improves.