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What if exercising gave you superpowers? 

Digital climbing wall shows that technology can increase the attractiveness and diversity of challenges offered by exercise. In the future, exercise AI may also be used for training athletes. 

Home aerobics is available to everyone, but nevertheless only a few are actually willing to sweat away in their living room – even with the incentive of exercise games. 

‘A living room is simply a bad environment for exercise. It is confined and demotivating, because you have to be careful when moving around and cannot just lose yourself in movement’, says Professor of Computer Games Perttu Hämäläinen. 

‘If we want to encourage people to exercise, we should be working on evolving existing sports and movement environments with technology, making them more attractive’, he continues. 

A good example of this is the Augmented Climbing Wall, a digital climbing wall developed by Hämäläinen’s research group which is now taking the world by storm. It is basically a huge touchscreen which is created on top of a normal climbing wall and which adds to the climbing experience gaming elements, new routes and added challenges. The video presenting the new climbing wall became a social media hit overnight, and these digital climbing walls can now be found in climbing gyms and family entertainment centers around the world. 

‘Users like the fun, excitement and social element provided by the wall, and surprisingly, people claim they have been able to forget their fear of heights while using it. The digital climbing wall has also brought new customers to the climbing centres, such as stag parties and team building groups. And experienced climbers, who don’t perhaps get so much benefit from the wall, bring their children along to try it out’, Hämäläinen adds. 

Valo Motion, a spin-off company that is commercialising the wall, recently also released a new kind of trampoline game. Hämäläinen’s research group published their first research paper on trampoline games already in 2013. The research sought to strengthen the feelings of empowerment and competence which are central to exercise motivation, using both digital and physical technologies, in this case computer vision, game physics simulation, and a real trampoline.. 

‘Trampolines are already used widely to raise the skill level in, for example, the training of acrobatic aerial skills. When both the trampoline and the added virtual elements exaggerate the player’s powers, a superhero feeling is created, which our research shows to increase player arousal levels but without impeding learning.’ 

Following this, Hämäläinen and his research group have been focusing on the use of exercise AI for learning and coaching. 

‘When climbing, for example, the muscles are within an hour entirely worn out, but the brainis still going over different routes and strategies at full speed. Realistic digital simulation of sports, now possible due to recent advances in movement AI of virtual characters, makes it possible to practice cognitive aspects of sports through playful exploration exploring, even when one’s physical strength is all used up.’

About Augmented Climbing Wall

  • Combines monitoring of body movements, a customised computer vision application, a depth camera and projected graphics into a new kind of exercise application. 
  • In 2016, the company Valo Motion was established to commercialise the Augmented Climbing Wall, and so far the climbing walls have been sold in over 30 countries. 
  • Videos presenting the wall have been viewed over 100 million times. 
  • The Augmented Climbing Wall was chosen as Beneficial Game of the Year in 2017, and two research papers written about it have received awards at leading conferences in human-computer interaction (HCI) and game research. 
  • The creators of the Augmented Climbing Wall are: Perttu Hämäläinen (Head of Research Group), Postdoctoral Researcher Raine Kajastila (currently CEO of Valo Motion), MSc (Tech) Joni Vähämäki, Bachelor of Arts Leo Holsti, Master of Arts Janne Karsisto, MSc (Tech) Sami Pekkola, Research Assistant Jani Lindblad, and Research Assistant Riku Erkkilä.