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Publication numberUS20070042868 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/433,778
Publication dateFeb 22, 2007
Filing dateMay 11, 2006
Priority dateMay 11, 2005
Publication number11433778, 433778, US 2007/0042868 A1, US 2007/042868 A1, US 20070042868 A1, US 20070042868A1, US 2007042868 A1, US 2007042868A1, US-A1-20070042868, US-A1-2007042868, US2007/0042868A1, US2007/042868A1, US20070042868 A1, US20070042868A1, US2007042868 A1, US2007042868A1
InventorsJohn Fisher, Keith Thompson, Luca Nicoli
Original AssigneeJohn Fisher, Keith Thompson, Luca Nicoli
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Cardio-fitness station with virtual- reality capability
US 20070042868 A1
Abstract
In one embodiment, a stationary exercise station is provided. The stationary exercise station includes a computer which may run a computer program. The computer program simulates the motion of a first virtual bicycle and a second virtual bicycle. The first virtual bicycle and the second virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape. The computer program simulates moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape. The stationary exercise station also include a video monitor in communication with the computer. The video monitor displays the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape. The stationary exercise station also includes steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, a force resisting pedal rotation, and a movable gear-shifting member. The motion of the virtual bicycle is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the moveable gear-shifting member. The force resisting pedal rotation is proportional to the slope experienced by the virtual bicycle riding through the predetermined landscape.
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Claims(35)
1: A stationary exercise station comprising:
a computer; the computer running a computer program;
a video monitor in communication with the computer;
a stationary bicycle including handlebars and pedals; the pedals being able to rotate;
a force-resisting pedal-rotation mechanism; the force-resisting pedal-rotation mechanism being controlled by the computer program;
a movable member; the movable member mechanically coupled to a first electrical sensor; the first electrical sensor providing a first electrical signal to the computer when the movable member is set in motion;
wherein the electrical signal provided by the first electrical sensor to the computer is used to adjust the force resisting pedal rotation mechanism.
2. The stationary exercise station of claim 1, wherein:
the stationary bicycle further includes at least one heart-rate monitor; the heart-rate monitor in electrical communication with the computer.
3. The stationary exercise station of claim 1, wherein:
the handlebars can be steered by the user of the stationary exercise station; the handlebars mechanically coupled to a second electrical sensor; the second electrical sensor providing a second electrical signal to the computer when the handlebars are steered.
4. The stationary exercise station of claim 3, wherein:
the second electrical signal is proportional to the degree by which the handlebars are steered.
5. The stationary exercise station of claim 4, wherein:
the computer program, upon execution by the computer, simulates a virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape; the forward motion of the virtual bicycle through a predetermined landscape is controlled responsive to the rotation of the pedals and the first electrical signal; the direction of the virtual bicycle determined responsive to the second electrical signal.
6. The stationary exercise station of claim 5, wherein:
the computer program displays on the video monitor the image of predetermined landscape as seen in front of the virtual bicycle.
7. A cardio-fitness station, comprising:
a computer; the computer running a computer program; the computer program controlling the computer when executed by the computer;
a video monitor in communication with the computer;
a stationary bicycle including
rotatable pedals,
steerable handlebars, and
a movable member;
a first electrical sensor for sensing the rotation of the rotatable pedals; a second electrical sensor for sensing the degree of steer of the steerable handlebars, a third electrical sensor for sensing the motion of the movable member;
an electrical coupling between the computer program and the first electrical sensor;
an electrical coupling between the computer program and the second electrical sensor;
an electrical coupling between the computer program and the third electrical sensor.
wherein the computer program simulates a motion of a virtual bicycle depending on the input signals from the first electrical sensor, the second electrical sensor, and the third electrical sensor.
8. The cardio fitness station of claim 7, wherein:
the computer program displays the image seen in front of the virtual bicycle on the video monitor.
9. A stationary exercise station, comprising:
a computer; the computer suitable for running a computer program; the computer program, when run by the computer, simulating the motion of a virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape; the computer program simulating moving images seen by a virtual rider of the virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape;
a video monitor in communication with the computer; the video monitor displaying the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape;
a stationary bicycle including steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, and a movable gear-shifting member; a pedal-rotation-resisting mechanism;
wherein the motion of the virtual bicycle is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the movable gear-shifting member.
10. The stationary exercise station of claim 9, wherein:
the pedal-rotation-resisting mechanism providing a resistance to pedal rotation, the resistance being controlled by the computer program;
11. The stationary exercise station of claim 10, further characterized by:
the virtual bicycle having a momentary location in the predetermined landscape, the predetermined landscape having a slope at the momentary location of the virtual bicycle;
wherein the resistance to pedal rotation is proportional to the slope at the momentary location of the virtual bicycle in the predetermined landscape.
12. A stationary exercise station, comprising:
a computer; the computer running a computer program; the computer program simulating the motion of a first virtual bicycle and a second virtual bicycle; the first virtual bicycle and the second virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape; the computer program simulating moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape;
a video monitor in communication with the computer; the video monitor displaying the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape;
a stationary bicycle including steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, and a movable gear-shifting member;
the stationary bicycle providing a resistance to pedal rotation;
wherein the motion of the first virtual bicycle is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the movable gear-shifting member.
wherein the resistance to pedal rotation is proportional to the slope experienced by the first virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape.
13. A cardio-fitness station system comprising:
A first stationary exercise station including
a first computer; the first computer running a first computer program; the first computer program simulating the moving images seen by the first virtual rider of a first virtual bicycle while riding through a predetermined landscape;
a first video monitor in communication with the first computer; the first video monitor displaying the moving images seen by the first virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape;
a first stationary bicycle including first steerable handlebars, first rotatable pedals, a first movable gear-shifting member, and a first resistance to pedal rotation; the motion of the first virtual bicycle determined by the steering of the first steerable handlebars, rotation of the first rotatable pedals, and the motion of the first movable gear-shifting member; the first resistance to pedal rotation being proportional to the slope experienced by the first virtual bicycle riding through the predetermined landscape;
A second stationary exercise station including:
a second computer; the second computer running a second computer program; the second computer program simulating moving images seen by a second virtual rider of a second virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape;
a second video monitor in communication with the second computer; the second video monitor displaying the moving images seen by the second virtual rider of the second virtual bicycle while riding through a predetermined landscape;
a second stationary bicycle including second steerable handlebars, second rotatable pedals, a second movable gear-shifting member, and a second resistance to pedal rotation; the motion of the second virtual bicycle determined by the steering of the second steerable handlebars, rotation of the second rotatable pedals, and motion of the second movable gear-shifting member; the second resistance to pedal rotation proportional to the slope experienced by the second virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape.
wherein a wireless communication is established between the first computer and the second computer.
14. The cardio-fitness system of claim 13, further characterized by
the first virtual bicycle may be placed at any location in the predetermined virtual landscape.
15: The cardio-fitness system of claim 13, wherein the first virtual bicycle and the second virtual bicycle jointly ride in the same predetermined landscape.
16. A stationary exercise station, comprising:
a computer; the computer suitable for running a computer program; the computer program, when executed, simulating the motion of a first virtual bicycle and a second virtual bicycle; the first virtual bicycle and the second virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined path in a predetermined landscape; the computer program simulating moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined path in the predetermined landscape;
a video monitor in communication with the computer; the video monitor displaying the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined path;
a stationary bicycle including steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, a movable gear-shifting member, and a resistance to pedal rotation mechanism;
the motion of the first virtual bicycle is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the movable gear-shifting member;
wherein the resistance to pedal rotation provides a resistance that is proportional to the slope experienced by the first virtual bicycle riding through the predetermined path.
17. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the motion of the second virtual bicycle is predetermined and independent of the motion of the first virtual bicycle
18. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the second virtual bicycle moves at a constant pace on the predetermined path.
19. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the second virtual bicycle moves by dissipating constant power on the predetermined path.
20. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the motion of the second virtual bicycle is dependent on the motion of the first virtual rider.
21. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the second virtual bicycle tails the first virtual bicycle by less than thirty feet on the predetermined path.
22. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, further characterized by:
the predetermined path having a length, the second virtual bicycle is set to traverse the length of the predetermined path in a specified time.
23. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the predetermined landscape is a computer reconstruction of a real landscape.
24. The stationary exercise station of claim 16, wherein:
the predetermined path is a computer reconstruction of a real bicycle path in a real landscape.
25. A stationary bicycle, comprising:
pedals,
an alternator having an alternator shaft; the alternator shaft having the ability to rotate; the alternator shaft being mechanically coupled to the pedals, and
an electronic circuit executing an algorithm for controlling the resistance to turning the pedals; the algorithm having five operational states:
an idle state,
a first state,
a second state,
a run state, and
a shut state;
the first state being entered from the idle state when the pedals are turning; the first state being entered from the second state when the angular velocity of the alternator shaft is less than 1,200 revolutions per minute for longer than two seconds;
the second state being entered from the first state when the angular velocity of the alternator shaft exceeds 1,200 revolutions per minute;
the run state being entered from the second state when the angular velocity of the alternator shaft exceeds 1,200 revolutions per minute for longer than 2 seconds; the run state being entered from the shut state when the angular velocity the alternator shaft exceeds 1,000 revolutions per minute;
the shut state being entered from the run state when the angular velocity of the alternator shaft falls below 1,000 revolutions per minute;
the idle state being entered from the first state when the pedals are not turning for longer than two seconds; the idle state being entered from the shut state when the angular velocity of the alternator shaft remains below 1,000 revolutions per minute longer than two seconds.
26. A method of exercising, comprising:
sitting on a first stationary bicycle equipped with a computer, a video monitor, an input device, steerable handlebars, pedals, and a movable member; the computer running a control program and displaying information to the user on the video monitor;
selecting one of any number of virtual exercise tours displayed on the video monitor by using the input device;
using the steerable handlebars to steer and the pedals on the first stationary bicycle to move forward through a landscape shown on the video monitor;
using the movable member to adjust the ratio between cadence of the pedals and velocity of the forward motion through the landscape shown on the video monitor.
27. The method of exercising of claim 26, further comprising:
observing a virtual companion image on the video monitor, the virtual companion image manipulated responsive to actions of a user on a second stationary bicycle separate from the first stationary bicycle.
28. The method of exercising of claim 26, wherein:
the second stationary bicycle is physically coupled to the first stationary bicycle.
29. The method of exercising of claim 26, wherein:
the second stationary bicycle is coupled to the first stationary bicycle through a network.
30. A method of exercising, comprising:
a first user sitting on a first stationary bicycle equipped with a first computer, a first video monitor, a first input device, first steerable handlebars, first pedals, and a first movable member; the first computer running first control program and displaying first information to the first user on the first video monitor;
a second user sitting on a second stationary bicycle equipped with a second computer, a second video monitor, a second input device, second steerable handlebars, second pedals, and a second movable member; the second computer running a second control program and displaying second information to the second user on the second video monitor;
the first user and the second user selecting a virtual exercise tour; the virtual exercise tour being one of any number of exercise tours displayed on the first video monitor by using the first input device; the first user using the first steerable handlebars to steer and the first pedals on the first stationary bicycle to move forward through a landscape shown on the video monitor; the second user using the second steerable handlebars to steer and the second pedals on the second stationary bicycle to move forward through the landscape shown on the second video monitor;
the first user using the first movable member to adjust the ratio between cadence of the first pedals and forward motion velocity through the landscape shown on the first video monitor; the second user using the second gear-shifting member to adjust the ratio between cadence of the second pedals and forward motion velocity through the landscape shown on the second video monitor;
the first user observing a first virtual bicycle on the first video monitor; the motion of the first virtual bicycle being controlled by pedals and steering of the second user.
31. The method of exercising of claim 30, further comprising:
the second user observing a second virtual bicycle on the second video monitor; the motion of the second virtual bicycle being controlled by pedals and steering of the first user.
32. The method of exercising of claim 31, further comprising:
a third user sitting on a third stationary bicycle equipped with a third computer, a third video monitor, a third input device, third steerable handlebars, third pedals, and a third movable member; the third computer running a third control program and displaying third information to the third user on the third video monitor;
the third user selecting a virtual exercise tour selected by the first and second users; the third user using the third steerable handlebars to steer and the third pedals on the third stationary bicycle to move forward through a landscape shown on the video monitor;
the third user observing a first virtual bicycle on the third video monitor; the motion of the first virtual bicycle being controlled by pedals and steering of the first user;
the third user observing a second virtual bicycle on the third video monitor; the motion of the second virtual bicycle being controlled by pedals and steering of the second user.
33. The method of exercising of claim 31, wherein:
the second stationary bicycle is located in a physically remote location relative to the first stationary bicycle and is coupled to the first stationary bicycle through a network.
34. The method of exercising of claim 31, wherein:
the second stationary bicycle is located in the same physical location as the first stationary bicycle and is coupled to the first stationary bicycle through a local network.
35: A stationary exercise station comprising:
a computer; the computer running a computer program;
a video monitor in communication with the computer;
a stationary bicycle including handlebars and pedals; the pedals being able to rotate;
a pedal-rotation-resisting mechanism; the pedal-rotation-resisting mechanism providing a resistance to rotation of pedals; the resistance having a magnitude, the magnitude being controlled by the computer program;
a movable member; the movable member mechanically coupled to a first electrical sensor; the first electrical sensor providing a first electrical signal to the computer when the movable member is set in motion;
wherein the electrical signal provided by the first electrical sensor to the computer is used to adjust the magnitude of the resistance to rotation of pedals.
Description
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/680,446, entitled “CARDIO-FITNESS STATION WITH VIRTUAL-REALITY CAPABILITY” and filed on May 11, 2005, and is hereby incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND

Bicycling for competition has developed in Olympic sport and has given rise to a major sports equipment industry over the last decades. The quality of exercise and the entertainment value added by riding through countryside and next to other bikers has resulted in with a high interest in this activity. As an exercise, riding outdoors also has exhibited disadvantages for some people. For example, the ride cannot be interrupted at will, since one still has to ride to return if one is away some distance from home. Additionally, riding a real bicycle may prove to be dangerous for unskilled bikers and the elderly. Exercising in a fitness club or in one's home has become a preferred way for many individuals to exercise in the last decades.

An entire industry has developed around providing fitness equipment for home and indoors exercise. The stationary exercise bicycle is a very popular exercise station due to the simplicity of motion necessary for exercise (rotating pedals) and the simplicity of manufacture. For this reason, many exercise equipment manufacturers have developed stationary bicycles with added features that provide a greater degree of control of the exercise (for example, varying resistance to pedaling depending on desired level of exercise) and monitoring of the exercise parameters on a suitable monitor (for example, heart rate monitoring and calorie dissipated).

However, even though the exercise program may provide users with these additional features, people still find it tedious to exercise regularly. Equipment manufacturers have been addressing the entertainment issue by equipping their products with television sets and music playback. However, bicycling on or off a path through countryside and in company of other people is for many people more interesting than watching television during the exercise, and these features and form of entertainment have not been provided with stationary exercise equipment.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention is illustrated by way of example in the accompanying drawings. The drawings should be understood as illustrative rather than limiting.

FIG. 1 provides a photograph of an embodiment of an example cardio-fitness station.

FIG. 2 provides an example image shown on the video screen in an embodiment.

FIG. 3 provides an example illustration of the heads-up display in an embodiment.

FIG. 4 provides a schematic illustration of the hardware elements of the cardio-fitness station in an embodiment.

FIG. 5 provides a schematic illustration of the pedal assembly in an embodiment.

FIG. 6 provides an example illustration of electrical interconnects between the alternator, electrical load, and the computer in an embodiment.

FIG. 7 provides a schematic illustration of the steering assembly in an embodiment.

FIG. 8 provides a schematic illustration of the gear shifter assembly in an embodiment.

FIG. 9 provides an illustration of an example of a keypad front panel in an embodiment.

FIG. 10 provides an illustration of an electrical control block diagram in an embodiment.

FIG. 11 provides an illustration of exercise modes in an embodiment

FIG. 12 provides an illustration of a Tour Mode sequence in an embodiment

FIG. 13 provides an illustration of a Hardware control algorithm and operation states thereof in an embodiment.

FIG. 14 provides an example of a video monitor image when a cardio-fitness station is on a TV Mode in an embodiment.

FIG. 15 provides an example of a schematic of exercise mode actions with one user exercising in an embodiment.

FIG. 16 provides an example of a schematic of exercise mode action when there are two users exercising on two cardio-fitness stations in communication in an embodiment.

FIG. 17 provides an illustration of exercising in a virtual environment using a wireless link between two stations in an embodiment.

FIG. 18 provides an illustration of networked exercise in a virtual environment using cardio-fitness stations in an embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

A system, method, and apparatus are provided for a cardio-fitness station with virtual-reality capability. In one embodiment, a stationary exercise station is provided. The station includes a computer, the computer running a computer program, a video monitor in communication with the computer, and a stationary bicycle including handlebars and pedals, the pedals able to rotate.

Various embodiments relate to exercise equipment, stationary exercise bicycles, cardio-fitness, and in particular to exercise equipment with interactive virtual reality systems. The specific embodiments described in this document represent example instances of the present invention, and are illustrative in nature rather than restrictive in terms of the scope of the present invention.

A cardio-fitness station with virtual reality capability may include a frame, seat assembly, pedal assembly, a steering assembly, and a computer with a video monitor mechanically attached to the frame. The steering assembly may include a movable gear-shifting member for gear shifting, steerable handlebars, heart-rate monitors, input keypad, headphones and optionally a microphone. The computer may run a virtual reality program and provides sensory stimuli to the user exercising. The sensory stimuli include images on the video monitor, sound on stereo headphones, and difficulty in pedaling the pedals in the pedal assembly. The computer may include mass storage media and connections to the Internet and TV cable. The cardio-fitness station machine can be selectively operated as either a stand-alone unit or in an interactive exercise mode, wherein the exercise data generated by one cardio-fitness machine is communicated to at least one other similar machine allowing two or more users to exercise together or race against each other in a virtual environment. The other cardio-fitness station may be located anywhere in the world. A remote server may maintain exercise data on all users and enables retrieval of this data by the user anywhere in the world.

In the following description, for purposes of explanation, numerous specific details are set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding of the invention. It will be apparent, however, to one skilled in the art that the invention can be practiced without these specific details. In other instances, structures and devices are shown in block diagram form in order to avoid obscuring the invention.

Reference in the specification to “one embodiment” or “an embodiment” means that a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least one embodiment of the invention. The appearances of the phrase “in one embodiment” in various places in the specification are not necessarily all referring to the same embodiment, nor are separate or alternative embodiments mutually exclusive of other embodiments.

In one embodiment, a cardio-fitness station with virtual reality capability is provided. A concept that may underlay many such embodiments is to model a stationary exercise equipment after a specific outdoor exercise (or recreational) equipment in such a way that (a) the controls of the outdoor exercise equipment are maintained, (b) the sensory stimuli resulting from outdoor exercise associated with the specific exercise equipment are provided to the user by a virtual reality system, and (c) availability of a network connection between like cardio-fitness stations enables users of exercise equipment to access their profile and fitness information on a cardio-fitness station anywhere in the world, and more than one user, where each user may be located anywhere in the world, to participate and interact in the same virtual environment while exercising on a cardio-fitness station.

One embodiment is a cardio-fitness station that exploits outdoor bicycling. The cardio-fitness station includes an enhancement to the conventional stationary exercise bicycle. Stationary bicycle is an exercise apparatus that can be pedaled like a bicycle, called also stationary bike, and is generally understood to be different from mounting a road bicycle on a rear-wheel trainer to make the road bicycle stationary for purposes of in-house training. Hardware enhancements are added to the stationary bicycle providing controls that are present on a real road bicycle. The conventional stationary exercise bicycle is known in the art: it includes a frame, seat assembly, a rest for the arms, and a pedal assembly. Enhancements provided may include hardware improvements, including a hardware control algorithm, and functionality improvements. These improvements will be described in the following text in more detail. (In the following text the referrals to the user of cardio-fitness station user shall always refer to a user of female gender, but it is understood that the user may be male, and that the gender of the user is irrelevant to the description.) Exercise is a regular or repeated use of a faculty or bodily organ; bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.

The hardware improvements may include several elements, with each of the elements potentially providing an invention separate from the combination with added functionality.

The hardware improvements to the conventional stationary bicycle disclosed in this application are a movable member for gear shifting, improved steering assembly, a computer and a monitor. It also includes a transceiver for wireless communication between adjacent cardio-fitness stations. The hardware control algorithm improvements include the program algorithm that results in a reliable operation of the cardio-fitness station.

The functionality improvements rely on the virtual-reality program running on the mentioned computer. The improvements include numerous features present in real life bicycling, but not in stationary exercise equipment, and other features that are not possible in real-life bicycling.

The hardware, the hardware control algorithm, and the functionality improvements potentially result in greater entertainment value and commitment to exercise of the user.

The station includes a force resisting pedal rotation. The force resisting pedal rotation is determined by the computer program. Additionally, the station includes a movable gear-shifting member. The movable gear-shifting member is mechanically coupled to a first electrical sensor. The first electrical sensor provides a first electrical signal to the computer when the movable gear-shifting member is set in motion, the first electrical signal used to adjust the force resisting pedal rotation.

In another embodiment, a cardio-fitness station with virtual-reality capability is provided. The station includes a stationary bicycle, a computer—the computer running a computer program. The computer program simulates the motion of a virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape. The computer program simulates moving images seen by a virtual rider of the virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape. The station includes a video monitor in communication with the computer. The video monitor displays the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape. The stationary bicycle includes steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, a movable gear-shifting member and a force resisting pedal rotation. The motion of the virtual bicycle through predetermined landscape is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the movable gear-shifting member.

In another embodiment, a cardio-fitness station with virtual-reality capability is presented. The station includes a stationary bicycle, a computer running a computer program. The computer program simulates the motion of a first virtual bicycle and at least one other virtual bicycle. The first virtual bicycle and at least one other virtual bicycle riding through a predetermined landscape. The computer program simulates moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape.

The station also includes a video monitor in communication with the computer. The video monitor displays the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape.

The stationary exercise station also includes steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, a force resisting pedal rotation, and a movable gear-shifting member. The motion of the virtual bicycle through predetermined landscape is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the movable gear-shifting member. The force resisting pedal rotation is proportional to the slope experienced by the virtual bicycle riding through the predetermined landscape.

In yet another embodiment, a method of exercising is provided. The method includes a user exercising while sitting on a stationary bicycle equipped with a computer, a video monitor, an input device, steerable handlebars, pedals, and a movable gear-shifting member. The method also includes the computer running a control program and displaying information to the user on the video monitor.

The method further includes selecting one of any number of virtual exercise tours displayed on the video monitor by using the input device. Additionally, the method includes using the steerable handlebars to steer and the pedals on the stationary bicycle to virtually move forward through a landscape shown on the video monitor. Furthermore, the method includes using the movable gear-shifting member to adjust the ratio between cadence of the pedals and velocity of the forward motion through the landscape shown on the video monitor.

In still another embodiment, a cardio-fitness station with virtual-reality capability is presented. The station includes a stationary bicycle and a computer which runs a computer program. The computer program simulates the motion of a first virtual bicycle and a second virtual bicycle.

The first virtual bicycle and the second virtual bicycle ride through a predetermined landscape. The computer program simulates moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape. The stationary exercise station includes a video monitor in communication with the computer, with the video monitor displaying the moving images seen by the virtual rider of the first virtual bicycle while riding through the predetermined landscape.

The stationary bicycle includes steerable handlebars, rotatable pedals, a force resisting pedal rotation, and a movable gear-shifting member. The motion of the first virtual bicycle is determined by the steering of the steerable handlebars, rotation of the rotatable pedals, and motion of the movable gear-shifting member. The force resisting pedal rotation is proportional to the slope experienced by the first virtual bicycle riding through the predetermined landscape. The motion of the second virtual bicycle is determined by a user exercising on another similar stationary exercise station.

Virtual Reality

In the last decade, there has been significant development of virtual reality software and programs that have virtual reality attributes (inherent characteristics). Virtual reality is an artificial environment, which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment. The following description of virtual reality applies to various embodiments.

The essential elements of a virtual-reality system are (a) computer that runs virtual reality program, (b) person (“the user”) using the system, and (c) set of interfaces, some of which receive input from the user, and some of which deliver sensory stimuli to the user. The function common to all virtual reality programs is that the computer simulates the presence of a virtual body in a virtual environment, and that the sensory experiences of that virtual body (vision and sound) are delivered to the person (“the user”) using the virtual-reality system. In many virtual-reality systems, the user also has the ability to control the actions of the virtual body, and hence has an effect on the virtual environment.

Virtual environment may include activities of multiple virtual bodies and activities resulting from natural phenomena. Consequently, the tasks of the virtual reality program are to (a) simulate the activities of mentioned multiple virtual bodies and natural phenomena and (b) create the sensory stimuli experienced by one virtual body we refer to as the primary virtual body, or the recipient of the virtual sensory stimuli. The sensory stimuli of the primary virtual body are delivered to the user. Depending on the architecture of the virtual-reality system, the simulation of the activities of multiple objects and virtual bodies may be indistinguishable from creating stimuli experienced by the recipient. For the purpose of this description, computer simulation of virtual body activities also means computer generation of stimuli to be delivered to the recipient.

A simulation is the imitative representation of the functioning of one system or process by means of the functioning of another, i.e., a computer simulation. For the purposes of this description, a road bicycle ridden through a real landscape is imitatively represented by a computer-simulated bicycle riding in a computer-simulated landscape. A computer-simulated bicycle is also referred to as a virtual bicycle. A related concept is computer reconstruction. To reconstruct means to construct again: as to establish or assemble again; to build up again mentally, a computer-reconstructed landscape is a landscape that is modeled and its image simulated by a computer, using a suitable computer program.

The actions of virtual bodies other than the primary virtual body may be controlled by a specially written subprogram, in which case we speak of a computer-generated other virtual bodies. The computer-generated virtual bodies may have attributes of artificial intelligence or specific character. Virtual bodies other than the primary may be controlled by another user of the same virtual reality system. In the latter case, two or more users interact within the virtual reality environment. More specifically, two or more users also communicate with each other via sound: one user speaks and other users hear. As described below, using an Internet connection, the users may be miles apart.

Virtual bodies, other than the primary virtual body, may exist in the virtual environment, regardless of whether they can be seen, heard, or in any other way interact with the primary virtual body. These virtual bodies are referred to as persistent virtual bodies. Alternatively, virtual bodies that exist in the virtual environment only in the regions where the primary body can see them, hear them, or in any other way interact, but do not exist when they cannot be seen, heard or interacted with, are regarded as non-persistent.

Typically, a virtual reality program, or subset of such program, provides stimuli to one user based on the experiences of the primary virtual body. When two or more users interact in the virtual environment, the virtual-reality system architecture may include two or more computers, each running its own virtual reality program and each virtual-reality program with its own primary virtual body, and each computer in communication with all other computers each running its own virtual reality program and having its own primary virtual body. There are other architectures that can be employed to serve multiple users.

The sensory stimuli delivered by the computer to the user are provided via sensory interfaces, also referred to as output devices. A User's actions are captured by the computer via input devices or receptor interfaces. Examples of sensory interfaces for sight are video monitors and video goggles. Examples of sensory interfaces for sound are speakers (ex. surround-sound speaker system) and stereo headphones. The type of input device depends on the type of activity for which the virtual reality system is intended. The most sophisticated virtual-reality systems are flight simulators used to train pilots and astronauts, and here, the input devices here are numerous, as they include complete set of controls that an airplane would have. In an embodiment, the input devices capture the actions of the user of the cardio-fitness station and voice, while output devices deliver image, computer-generated sound, voices and sounds coming from other users, music, and change the difficulty in pedaling. In other embodiments, the output devices deliver air blown by fans at speeds dependent on perceived velocity of the virtual bicycle, or vibration of part of the station based on perceived road quality, for example.

A person using a virtual-reality program watches and listens to an action that is virtual—generated by a computer—and via the input devices participates in this action. The position, direction, motion of the virtual user is represented with a number of parameters. The number and the type of parameters depend on the type of action necessary and the degree of reality rendering. In some computer games, for example, the virtual user is represented with hundreds of parameters that include his or her three-dimensional image in addition to the position, direction, and speed of movement, position of limbs and their respective movements. In simpler virtual-reality systems, only the position and the motion used to represent the virtual user in the virtual environment. (A game is an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement; equipment for a game; a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other; set of rules governing a game; any activity undertaken or regarded as a contest involving rivalry; strategy, or struggle.)

Computer games today take advantage of some virtual reality attributes, and in some cases these developments have been employed with exercise equipment in order to make the exercise more interesting. However, the attempts to provide an exercise machine with game-like capability have been focused on enhancements to a single exercise control or entertainment aspect, rather than focusing on reconstructing the experience of outdoor exercise (for example, riding a bicycle through countryside). For this reason prior art exercise equipment exhibits computer programs that have limited set of controls and functionality, and they focus on a single aspect of the exercise.

For example, a stationary bicycle may exhibit resistance to pedaling that varies with the programmed slope that could be interpreted as a hill, but no attempt was made to make the user have the impression that she is riding on a hill. Additionally, the user may have had control over the speed of moving through a virtual landscape, but there were no obstacles and no means of avoiding obstacles and changing the efficiency of her pedaling. Namely, there were no capabilities for steering and gear shifting as one would in a real bicycle.

It may be useful to provide a cardio-fitness station that uses virtual reality to create a perception for the user. This perception may convey riding a bicycle though a predetermined bicycle route, thereby creating a greater interest in riding and exercise. The perception may also convey riding a bicycle though a predetermined landscape without being confined to a route or a trail, thereby creating a greater interest in riding and exercise (off-trail biking).

Similarly, the perception may convey racing against other virtual (computer generated) bikers on a predetermined route or in a predetermined landscape, thereby creating a more realistic experience in riding for exercise (race against virtual riders). Moreover, the perception may convey following a rider who is set to either constant pace, constant power or fixed time for the predetermined trail, thereby executing a predetermined exercise plan (this type of rider is referred to as a pacer). Additionally, the perception may convey riding a bicycle through a predefined trail or in a predetermined landscape in another country, thereby creating more interest in riding for exercise. In this case the user exercising experiences virtual tourism as the landscape may be an attempt to mimic countryside or a trail in another country. Similarly, the perception may convey racing a bicycle against or riding next to a virtual rider whose actions and performance are a recording of the user's previous ride through a predetermined trail or predetermined landscape, thereby offering means for self-improvement in exercise (this type of rider is referred to as a ghost rider).

Likewise, the perception may convey racing a bicycle against or riding next to riders whose actions are responses to the user's actions, namely, the virtual riders have predefined personalities, such as, aggressive rider, tailer, slow rider, and sprinter, thereby creating a more realistic experience in riding for exercise by using riders with personality. A tailer is a bicycle rider that follows closely behind another, and has similar analogs in other sports. Additionally, the perception may convey riding a bicycle through a real biking trail, in which the trail has forks, e.g., user may make a choice of path during the ride. The perception may convey having a virtual coach that advises the user on which path to take when the trail has a fork, and what pace to take depending on the user's current condition and exercise history (virtual coach). The perception may also convey riding along with virtual riders whose actions are controlled by other users of similar cardio-fitness stations, wherein the users and their (similar) cardio-fitness stations may be distant (located in another country) on a predetermined route or in a predetermined landscape, thereby creating a more realistic experience in riding for exercise (riding with other real remote riders). Similarly, the perception may convey participating in a game involving a treasure hunt or orienteering with a virtual game coach.

It may also be useful to provide a cardio-fitness station in which, via the virtual reality features, the users riding on two or more similar stations can race against each other or ride next to each other via a network connection (race against remote riders). Similarly, it may be useful to provide a cardio-fitness station in which the exercise data from each user are stored locally or at a remote location and may be retrieved at the same or a different cardio-fitness station. Moreover, it may be useful to provide a stationary exercise bicycle that includes pedals, steerable handlebars, heart-rate monitor, and a gear shifting hardware. Likewise, it may be useful to provide a cardio-fitness station in which exercise conditions include cadence, gear, handlebar position, and heart rate. Also, it may be useful to provide a stationary exercise bicycle in which the user experiences one or both of a resistance when pedaling and a resistance when turning handlebars depending on the conditions set and the conditions encountered in the virtual environment. Similarly, it may be useful to provide an exercise system in which the user can plan a fitness program to achieve a fitness goal, save his or her fitness plan, and then exercise according to the predefined plan on any such exercise system connected via the Internet (fitness planning). Moreover, it may be useful to provide an exercise system in which the user can exercise according to a set tour in multiple segments. Namely, the user can interrupt an exercise session at any time, save it and then continue at a later time (multi-segment rides). Additionally, it may be useful to provide an exercise system in which biometric data (exercise conditions) are shown on a video monitor overlaid over a TV program.

Introduction

FIG. 1 shows a photograph of an embodiment of an example cardio-fitness station. The shown cardio-fitness station is modeled after a real outdoor bicycle. The cardio-fitness station includes a steering assembly E107, pedal assembly E105, seat assembly E109, a computer E103 and a video monitor E101, all mechanically connected or attached to a frame E102. The user, desiring to exercise, sits on the seat E108 as one would on a real bicycle and turns the pedals E104 while holding the handlebars E106 on the steering assembly E107. The video monitor is positioned in the plain view of the user while the user is seated on the seat. The user watches the images on the video monitor E101, listens to sounds coming from the headphones (not shown), and optionally speaks into a microphone (not shown).

In one embodiment, there are three exercise modes available on the cardio-fitness station: Manual Mode, TV Mode and Tour Mode. In the Tour Mode, the computer E103 runs a virtual reality program and is connected to the video monitor E101. The virtual-reality program simulates the motion of at least one virtual bicycle (with a virtual rider on it) riding through a predetermined virtual landscape.

In one embodiment, the virtual reality program also simulates select natural phenomena occurring in the same virtual landscape simultaneously with the presence of the at least one virtual bicycle. In some embodiments, the virtual reality program simulates two or more virtual bicycle riding through the predetermined virtual landscape. Whether only one virtual bicycle or more than one virtual bicycle is simulated, one virtual bicycle is the primary virtual body (as defined in the introduction) and will from now on be referred to as user's own virtual bicycle.

Under the control of the computer, (a) the video monitor displays what the virtual rider of user's own virtual bicycle would see, (b) the headphones provide sound of what the user would hear, and (c) the force resisting the pedaling approximates what a rider would experience when riding through a landscape that is represented by the virtual predetermined landscape shown on the video monitor. In some embodiments, wind and vibration effects (such as through fans or vibration of the bicycle) are provided to represent physical effects of the speed and landscape of the ride, for example. In one embodiment, the headphones play music. The user's own virtual bicycle is a representation of the user's bicycle (i.e., the stationary bicycle that the user is riding) in the virtual environment. The actions of the user's own virtual bicycle are determined by its virtual-user-bicycle attributes. In an embodiment, these attributes include location, direction, velocity, and the angular position of the handlebars. The attributes are used to place the user's own virtual bicycle at a specific location, with a specific velocity, and direction of motion in the virtual environment.)

The motion of the user's own virtual bicycle in the virtual landscape and select natural phenomena generated by the virtual reality program are determined by the exercise parameters acquired from the stationary bicycle while the bicycle is operated by the user. Exercise parameters are physical variables defining the state of operation of the cardio-fitness system during its use by a person exercising. The examples of exercise parameters are (a) angular velocity of pedal rotation, also referred to as, cadence, (b) angular velocity of the alternator shaft, (c) angular position of the handlebars, (e) user's heart rate, (f) pedal resistance experienced by the user (expressed as torque), (g) gear number, and (f) the history of all of those parameters. Specifically, turning the stationary bicycle pedals by the user results in forward motion of the user's own virtual bicycle. Steering the handlebars on the stationary bicycle results in user's own virtual bicycle turning left or right in the predetermined virtual landscape. (Angular velocity is the rate of rotation around an axis usually expressed in radians per second (revs) or revolutions per minute (RPM)).

In one embodiment, the predetermined landscape displayed on the video monitor is a computer-generated landscape, and in another embodiment the landscape displayed on the video monitor is a combination of computer-generated landscape with real landscape images. Such virtual-reality representations of computer-generated landscapes are well known in the art of video games and animation. The virtual reality program shows landscape terrain over which and through which a virtual bicycle can be ridden.

In one embodiment, the user is free to steer and ride the user's own virtual bicycle in any direction through the virtual landscape, bound only by the limits of the virtual landscape. This is referred to as off-road riding in the virtual landscape. In another embodiment, the virtual reality program displays a path on which the user is advised to keep user's own virtual bicycle. The path on which the user is advised to stay is a closed-loop path with a predetermined length and height profile. Such a closed-loop path is referred to as virtual exercise route (VER). The virtual terrain or the VER exhibits upward or downward slopes.

If the elevation of the path in the virtual environment increases as the virtual bicycle is moving forward, the slope is said to be positive or upward and the resistance to pedal rotation is increased proportionally to the slope. If the elevation of the path in the virtual environment decreases as the virtual bicycle moves forward, the slope is said to be negative or downward and the resistance to pedal rotation is reduced to a minimum value, namely, the resistance does not become negative. As the user's own virtual bicycle rides along this terrain or VER, the virtual reality program communicates to the pedal assembly to adjust the pedaling resistance. In this way, the user turning the pedals on the stationary bicycle experiences more difficult pedaling when the user's own virtual bicycle riding on an upward slope, and less resistance when the user's own virtual bicycle riding on a downward slope.

The resistance experienced by the user is related to the slope of the terrain (or VER) at the position and the direction of the virtual bicycle motion in the virtual environment. (Virtual exercise route (VER) is a closed-loop bicycle path in a virtual landscape along which virtual bicycles ride, at least one of the virtual bicycles being controlled by the actions of the user exercising on the cardio-fitness station. A related term is a virtual ride or tour, which is a sequence of events experienced by the user who is sitting on the stationary exercise equipment, pedaling, steering, changing gears and watching images of a virtual environment shown on the video monitor in front of him or her. The user watches the images on the video monitor and acts as if he or she is the biker riding through the virtual landscape or along a virtual exercise route shown on the video monitor.)

In accordance with an embodiment, the user may optimize her pedaling resistance by adjusting the gear. Commonly known, gear is a state of transmission between the generator of rotational motion (for example, an internal combustion engine on a motor vehicle or the pedals on a bicycle, for example) and the wheels that move a vehicle (bicycle or a motor vehicle) forward. Using a bicycle as an example, the gear is characterized by a predetermined transmission ratio between the pedal rotation and the velocity of the bicycle. A road bicycle has an integer number of gears—typically between 1 and 15. For the purposes of this description, gear is a predetermined ratio between the angular velocity of the pedals and the virtual velocity of user's own virtual bicycle.

Each gear is designated with a number. It is clear that other designations, such as, low, medium, high, or overdrive, are possible, for example. In an embodiment, the cardio-fitness station incorporates a movable member used to change the gear. In an embodiment, the number of gears is greater than one, typically thirty gears. In one embodiment, with every single increment in the gear number the transmission ratio increases by a constant percentage. This results in an exponential increase in the transmission ratio with each increment in the gear number. It is clear that other and varying ratios between adjacent transmission ratios (gear numbers) can be used with various embodiments. According to an embodiment, the user changes the ratio between the rotational-velocity of the pedals and the virtual speed of the user's own virtual bicycle in order to optimize the force needed to turn the pedals and go forwards. For motion of desired speed up a virtual terrain of a given slope, a lower transmission ratio (or lower gear) provides for smaller resistance to pedaling, but higher cadence necessary to achieve given bicycle speed. By changing the gear, the user is able to adapt her exercise level to the virtual terrain and desired virtual speed of bicycling.

The pedal rotation velocity and the resistance to the pedaling determine the instantaneous energy dissipation by the user. The instantaneous force pushing the pedals (controlled by user and the pedal resistance) multiplied by the instantaneous rotational velocity of the pedals equals the instantaneous power delivered by the user to the exercise machine. The power delivered to the exercise machine is expressed in Watts and is integrated (accumulated) by the computer. The time integral of power is energy, which is expressed in calories (or Joule). The instantaneous power, its history, and the energy dissipated during one exercise session are displayed on the computer screen for the user to see. An exercise session is a process that starts with the user selecting the exercise mode and ends with the user abandons the exercise station or, in the Tour Mode, requests stop.

In one embodiment, at the end of the exercise session, the history of dissipated power, velocity, and motion is logged on mass storage media for later use. Storing the history of exercise parameters enables the virtual reality program to reconstruct the entire exercise session at a later time. This also enables the user to interrupt an exercise session and save her virtual position and exercise data at the point of interruption, and to load the information at a later time to continue the exercise session.

As mentioned above, more than one virtual bicycle can ride next to the user's own virtual bicycle. These other bicycles may have different functions, and are referred to as AI riders where AI implies artificial intelligence. The riding programs of AI riders (and their bicycles) is generally independent of the user's own virtual bicycle. In one embodiment, the AI riders are non-persistent and appear only in the region where they can interact, can be seen or heard by the virtual rider of the user's own virtual bicycle. In one embodiment, the AI riders number and/or speed are partially influenced by the presence of the user's own virtual bicycle. Namely, when the user's own virtual bicycle is moving slow, the AI riders appear to pass her, thereby creating an impression of being among the slowest of the riders. Alternatively, when the user's own virtual bicycle is moving fast, the number of AI riders reduces, and they appear in front the user's own virtual bicycle so that the user may pass them, further creating an impression that the user is moving faster than the average rider would.

In one embodiment, a second virtual bicycle (with a virtual rider) is a previously recorded exercise session. In this embodiment, a user records an exercise session, and then at a later time exercises while watching the video monitor where the one of the shown virtual bicycles is a pre-recorded virtual bicycle with motion from her own (or somebody else's) session recorded previously. In this way, the user has the ability to race against one's own previous recording. The prerecorded exercise session results in a rider whose ride is independent from the user's own virtual bicycle.

In another embodiment, a second virtual bicycle (with a virtual rider) has a predetermined program, in which the bicycle traverses a predetermined path in a fixed amount of time, at a fixed speed, or by dissipating a fixed amount of power during riding. Such a virtual bicycle (with its virtual rider) is referred to as the pacer. In this embodiment, the user has the ability to pace herself against the pacer who sets the pace. The pacer's ride is independent from the user's own virtual bicycle.

In another embodiment, the cardio-fitness station (referred to as Station 1) is in communication with another similar cardio-fitness station (referred to as Station 2). User 1 exercises on Station 1 and watches the video monitor of Station 1. User 2 exercises on Station 2 and watches the video monitor of Station 2. Virtual bicycles 1 and 2 are two of the bicycles tracked by the virtual reality program. On Station 1, virtual bicycle 1 is the primary virtual body, while virtual bicycle 2 is the primary virtual body on Station 2. In this way, user 1 and 2 may ride together or race against each other in a predetermined landscape: on a path or in open off-road biking. More than two bikers can race in this way. In one embodiment, the communication between two or more stations is realized using a wireless link. In another embodiment, the communication includes an Internet link in which the virtual bicycles racing against each other are located remotely, possibly even in different countries.

In another embodiment, the virtual reality program also contains a virtual coach function. This function monitors the user's exercise history, current heart rate, user's performance in the current exercise session and makes suggestions to the user on how to proceed on an exercise path. For example, if the heart rate increase would go high, the virtual coach would suggest to the user to slow down or to take an easier route in a virtual exercise path.

Hardware Description

The hardware configuration of one embodiment of the cardio-fitness station is shown schematically in FIG. 4. The cardio-fitness station includes the following components and assemblies: frame assembly B110, seat assembly B114, pedal assembly B112, steering assembly B115, video monitor B160, and computer B150.

The components and assemblies B114, B112, B115, B160, and B150 are mechanically connected to the frame assembly B110. The purpose of the frame assembly B110 is to support the user and all of the associated components and assemblies of the cardio-fitness system. The frame assembly B110 may be made out of metal or is assemblies of parts that may include metals and other materials as commonly known in the art of manufacturing road bicycles and stationary bicycles for exercise purposes.

The seat assembly B114 includes a seat B116 coupled to a rod B118 that is mechanical connected to the frame B110. In one embodiment, the seat assembly includes means for adjustment of seat height and means for adjustment of seat position along the forward-backward direction of the stationary bicycle (not shown). The means for adjustment of seat position in the forward-backward direction include a bar along which the seat can be slid for the purpose of adjustment, and the bar has several holes into which a pin or similar lever may be placed to lock the seat into a specific position. The purpose of the seat is for the user of the cardio-fitness system to sit while exercising in a manner similar to a bicyclist would sit on a road bicycle.

The purpose of the pedal assembly B112 is to provide the user of the cardio-fitness system means to exercise ones leg muscles and dissipate energy while exercising. The pedals B113 (only one shown in FIG. 4) are rotated in the same manner as one would when riding a road bicycle. The pedal assembly B112 is in electrical communication with the steering assembly B115 schematically depicted by the link B212. The pedal assembly B112 is described in more detail in a later section below.

The purposes of the steering assembly B115 are (a) to provide the user means to steer the direction of the virtual user bicycle, (b) to monitor the user's heart rate, (c) to accept user's input in choosing different exercise programs and exercise modes, (d) to accept user's input on the choice of gear number, accept user's input via an optional microphone, and (e) deliver sensory stimuli to the user via headphones that are plugged into the steering assembly. The steering assembly is in electrical communication with the pedal assembly B112 via a link B212 and in electrical communication with the computer B150 via a link B211. The steering assembly B115 is described in more detail below.

The computer B150 is in electrical communication with the steering assembly B115 via a link B211 and with the video monitor B160 via a link depicted with B210. The computer B150 runs a virtual reality program which sends sensory stimuli to the user by (a) sending images and information to the video monitor B160 via link B210, (b) sending sound to the user's headphones that are plugged into the steering assembly B115 via link B211, and (c) controlling the resistance of the pedal rotation in the pedal assembly B112 via links B211 and B212. Furthermore, the computer B150 acquires exercise parameters by receiving information about the pedal B113 rotation via link B212 and B211, position of the handlebars, gear number, heart rate, and user program selection from the steering assembly B115 via link B211. The computer B150 further includes a wireless transceiver with an antenna B151, an optional Internet connection B152, and an optional TV cable B153. Mass storage (not shown) in the computer B150 contains compressed files with music programs.

Pedal Assembly

A pedal is a foot lever or treadle by which a part is activated in a mechanism; in case of a road bicycle there are two pedals, the rotation of the pedals sets the bicycle in motion; on a stationary bicycle, there also two pedals and their rotation is used to provide exercise to the user of the stationary bicycle in the same sense as rotation of the pedals, i.e., pedaling, the pedals on a real bicycle. The pedals are rotatable, i.e. they can be rotated by the action of feet as on a typical road bicycle or a typical stationary bicycle.

The pedal assembly B112 is explained using FIG. 5. The user rotates the pedals M130 while exercising. The resistance to rotation of the pedals M130, also referred to as pedaling difficulty, is varied in a controlled manner, thereby delivering to the user a varying degree of exercise difficulty. The varying exercise difficulty is interpreted by the user as increased difficulty in riding the user's own virtual bicycle on a virtual terrain with different slopes.

The pedals M130 are mechanically coupled to the alternator M140 using a system of pulleys M101, M102, M103, M104, and M105 and belts M134 and M112. An alternator is an electric generator for producing alternating current. For the purpose of this description, an alternator includes a rectifier and a voltage regulator, which enables the alternator to produce DC voltage of a constant (regulated) voltage. The number of pulleys and belts may vary, and the arrangement shown in FIG. 5 is an example. The pedals M130 are mechanically coupled to the pedal pulley M101. The velocity of rotational motion M131, referred to as cadence, of the pedals M130 (and the pulley M101) is different from the angular velocity M147 of the alternator shaft M120. The ratio of the angular velocity M147 to cadence M131 is fixed by the ratio of the perimeters of the pulleys (M101, M102, M103 and M104 in this example). The typical value of this ratio range from 25:1 to 35:1, with the alternator shaft M120 rotating faster than the pedal pulley M101 (i.e., the pedals M130). Cadence is the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activity, for the purposes of this description, the angular velocity of pedal rotation.

The power delivered by the user to the rotational motion of the pedals M130 is converted to electrical energy using an alternator M140 and subsequently dissipated on an electrical load M141. The electrical load M141 is in electrically connected to the alternator M140. The details of the electrical connection M142 are described later. A simplified explanation of this conversion follows: The rotational motion M131 of the pedals M130 is converted into rotational motion M147 of the shaft M120 of the alternator M140. The alternator M140 converts rotational motion of the shaft M120 into electrical power delivered to the electrical load M141 via the electrical connection M142. Adjusting the amount of power dissipated on the electrical load M141 results in the adjustment of the resistance to rotation M147 of the alternator shaft M120, and consequently the rotation M131 of the pedals M130, according to the law of energy conservation: If one allows small amount of power to dissipate on the electrical load M141, the pedals M130 rotate easily. If one allows large amount of power to dissipate on the electrical load M141, then high resistance to rotation M131 of the pedals M130 will be experienced by the user. The amount of power dissipated on the electrical load M141 is controlled by the cardio-fitness' control program running on the computer B150 (shown in FIG. 4) via links B211 and B212 (shown in FIG. 4).

The cadence M131 is detected using an electrical sensor M111, which includes a momentary switch that closes once every revolution of the pedal pulley M101. The angular velocity M147 of the alternator shaft M120 is detected by monitoring the voltage output from one of the alternator coils. The control of the alternator is described in more detail with the help of FIG. 6. A sensor is a device that responds to a physical stimulus (as heat, light, sound, pressure, magnetism, or a particular motion) and transmits a resulting impulse (as for measurement or operating a control). (A transducer is a device that is actuated by power from one system and supplies power usually in another form to a second system. An actuator is device that actuates; specifically: a mechanical device for moving or controlling something.)

FIG. 6 illustrates the electrical interconnects between the alternator A101 (also M140 in FIG. 5), the electrical load A110 (also M141 in FIG. 5) and the computer A150 (also B150 in FIG. 4). The dashed rectangle A100 surrounds components that are contained in the pedal assembly B112 in FIG. 4. The dashed rectangle A300 surrounds components that are contained in the steering assembly B115 in FIG. 4.

The alternator shaft A103 rotates and produces an alternating voltage, which is then rectified and regulated using a regulator A102 as well known in the art. In order to convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy of constant voltage, a start voltage A105 has to be delivered to the alternator. This concept is well known in the art of building alternators without permanent magnets. One of the alternator terminals is grounded, as indicated with A108.

The output A104 from the alternator is a regulated DC voltage that is subsequently dissipated on the high power load A110. The amount of power dissipation for a given voltage generated at the alternator is regulated using an electronic circuit (not shown) located in the alternator board A111. The circuit that alters the duty cycle of the power dissipated on the load A110. These concepts are well known in the art of electronic circuits. The amount of power to be dissipated on the load is determined by the computer A150 (same as B150 in FIG. 4) and communicated via a digital link A210 to a control board A301 located in the steering assembly A300. The digital information is converted to an analog load signal A207 and delivered to the alternator control board A111. The load signal A207 is then used to control the amount of power dissipated on the electrical load A110.

The angular velocity of the alternator shaft A103 is monitored by detecting the frequency of the alternating electrical signal coming from the alternator “tap” output A105. The “tap” output provides an electrical waveform whose repetition directly proportional to the angular velocity of the alternator shaft A103, and hence allows the direct detection of the angular velocity of the alternator by using an electrical circuit, design of which is well known in the art. The circuit that detects the angular velocity of the alternator shaft A103 is located in the control board A301 in the steering assembly A300. The information about the angular velocity of the alternator shaft A103 is converted to digital information on the control board A301 and communicated to the computer A150 via link A210.

Most of the power delivered at the output A104 of the alternator A101 is dissipated on the load A100. Some of the power is also used to power electronic devices on the control board A301 in the steering assembly A300. The power is delivered to the control board A301 using wire A204.

Steering Assembly

The steering assembly B115 in FIG. 4 is shown in detail in FIG. 7. The steering assembly C115 includes a handlebar assembly C101, keypad assembly C104, and a gear-shifter assembly C117. These assemblies are mechanically supported by the steering-assembly frame C110.

Handlebar Assembly

A handlebar is a straight or bent bar with a handle at each end; specifically: one used to steer a bicycle or similar vehicle—usually used in plural as handlebars. The handlebar assembly C101 includes handlebars C107, handlebar shaft C106, handlebar spring C105, a potentiometer C108, and two heart-rate sensors C121 and C122. The handlebars C107 are attached to a handlebar shaft C106, which is mechanically attached to the steering-assembly frame C110 in a way that allows the handlebars to rotate around an axis that is vertical or close to vertical as they would on a real bicycle. The range of angles for handlebar rotation is at least ±20° to each side from the central position. The central position is that in which the both handlebar ends are equally distanced from the seat assembly. In an embodiment, the angular rotation of the handlebars is resisted by the use of a spring C105. The function of the spring C105 is to return the handlebars into their central position when no force is applied to them. The presence of the spring action on the handlebars is intended to create a realistic feeling which mimics the resistance to turning on a real bicycle, and is an integral part of the embodiment.

The handlebar shaft C106 is coupled to a variable electrical resistor, which in one embodiment is an electrical potentiometer C108. A potentiometer is a three-terminal electrical resistor with a sliding contact: a resistor that has a terminal on each end and an adjustable center connection, also known as the tap, that can be moved mechanically from one end of the resistor to the other. Note that this tap is different from tap A106, mentioned above. When a voltage is applied at the two ends of the resistor the potential difference between the tap and one of the terminals is directly controlled by the mechanical position of the tap relative to the electrical resistor. Consequently, the turning of the handlebar shaft C106, changes the position of the tap and results in a voltage difference between the tap and one of the resistor end terminals that is directly proportional to the angular position of the handlebars. The voltage between the tap and one of the end terminals is sensed by a suitable sensor on the control board C133. (The taps and the end terminals of the potentiometer are not shown in FIG. 7 as the concept of a potentiometer and its voltage dividing function is well known in the art.)

In one embodiment, the handlebars include heart-rate monitoring sensors used by the computer to determine the user's heart rate in beats per minute and displays the determined value on the monitor. Two heart-rate sensors C121 and C122 are located on the handlebars C107 in a way that hands of the user can touch them.

At the bottom of the steering assembly is gear-shifter assembly C147 of which a housing C149 and the gear shifter handle C148 are shown.

Gear-Shifting Assembly

The purpose of the gear-shifter assembly C119 is to allow the user to optimize between pedaling speed (cadence) and pedaling resistance in according to his or her exercise level and ability. Hence, the purpose is identical to the purpose of gear shifting on real bicycles with multiple speeds, as is well known in the art.

The gear-shifter assembly C119 is explained with the help of FIG. 8. The movable member (or the handle) D118 (C118 in FIG. 7) is internally coupled to a momentary two-pole electrical switch D120 (or an equivalent circuit configuration known in the art). The coupling between the handle D118 and the switch D120 is schematically illustrated in FIG. 8 with dashed line D117. When the gear shifter handle D118 is left untouched, it remains in the central position as shown with D118. In this position the electrical switch D120 allows electrical connection from the common terminal D140 to the terminal D142.

When the gear shifter handle D118 is pushed upwards to the position referred to as the up-shifting position D133, a connection is established between the common terminal D140 to terminal D141. This connection remains active as long as the handle is in the up-shift position D133. The connection is discontinued when the handle is released. When the handle is released, (a) the handle returns to the central position D118, (b) the electrical connection between terminals D140 and D141 is broken, and (c) the connection the common terminal D140 and the terminal D142 is established. Similarly, when the handle D118 is pushed downwards to the position referred to as the down-shift position D132, an electrical connection is established between the common terminal D140 and the terminal D143. When the handle is released, (a) the handle returns to the central position D118, (b) the electrical connection between terminals D140 and D143 is broken, and (c) the connection the common terminal D140 and the terminal D142 is established. These electrical connections are detected and used by the control board C133 (shown in FIG. 7) and the computer B150 (in FIG. 4) to sense when the user desires to change the gear or level of pedal resistance (as described in later text).

Keypad Assembly

Keypad assembly C102 includes a keypad C131 with touch-sensitive keys for user entry and a control board C133 with electronic circuitry. A keypad is a small, often handheld keyboard. A keypad is an input device, a device used to input information into a computer, and can be replaced with a keyboard, mouse, or any other computer input device known in the art, for example. The control board C133 and the keypad C131 are both situated in a housing C133 that is mechanically supported by the steering assembly frame C110. The keypad includes a connection for headphone, and in one embodiment, a connection of a microphone. The keypad is described in more detail in later text.

The function of the control board C133 in FIG. 7 (also A301 in FIG. 6) is to convert digital communication coming and to the computer via link B211 into analog signals used to control the cardio-fitness station and vice versa, to take the analog signals describing exercise parameters and the input from the user (via a keypad C131) and convert them into digital information and communicate this data to the computer via link A210 in FIG. 6 (also B210 in FIG. 4).

The keypad C131 contains keys that allow the user to input commands, such as, program start and end, and make selections, such as, tour number or music channel. An example of the keypad is shown in FIG. 9. The key pressed on the keypad C131 is captured by the control board C133 and communicated to the computer via link B210. The keypad housing C132 contains a connector for headphones (not shown in FIG. 7, but indicated with K123 in FIG. 9).

The electrical control diagram is described with the help of FIG. 10. The control board H142 is located in the keypad housing H141 (also C132 in FIG. 7). The keypad housing is an element of the steering assembly shown by B115 in FIG. 4. The control board H142 is a printed circuit board with digital and analog circuitry required to send and accept information to and from the controller H150 via a digital link H143. The digital link H143 may be implemented using Universal Serial Bus, also known as USB, but other protocols may be used. The keypad housing H141 also includes a socket for plugging in headphones. The headphones are to be used by the user to hear sounds and music delivered by or through the computer H150 via audio link H171.

The control board H142 accepts user input from the keypad device H144, and senses the following states of the exercise equipment: position of the potentiometer indicating a turn in the handlebars H150, the momentary switch actuation in the gear shifter H151, frequency of the switch actuation indicating cadence H152, and the heart-rate signal from the heart-rate monitors on the steering assembly H153. The control board H142 also communicates with the alternator board H145 via communication link H146.

Dynamic Alternator Control Algorithm

The operation of the cardio-fitness station during random uses in a health club or home may require a fail-safe and reliable control algorithm for operating the alternator. The alternator shaft may require a certain minimal angular velocity in order to generate constant voltage and enable setting of the resistance to rotation. The algorithm described is used to reliably maintain the alternator operation. In one embodiment, the cardio-fitness station has several operation states, and employs a specific algorithm to move the cardio-fitness station from one to another operational state. The virtual reality program and the hardware control both sense and act depending on the current operational state of the cardio-fitness station.

Specifically, the cardio-fitness station may require a set of parameters determining when it is in use. Secondly, in order to realize resistance to the pedaling, power is required to be brought to the alternator, and since the alternator has a minimum angular velocity of the shaft for which it can deliver regulated power, a hardware control is used to ensure that the states of the machine are defined and reliably move the cardio-fitness station from state to state. The algorithm and the associated computer program tracking and setting the rules for transiting from one to another state are called a state machine. The hardware state machine is described with the help of FIG. 13.

When the cardio-fitness station is powered, but not in use, or a user is sitting on the seat, but not turning the pedals, the cardio-fitness station is said to be IDLE. Once the pedals start turning the machine moves to state S1. State S1 is a state in which the under the action of the user, the pedals rotate (user is pedaling). Rotation of the pedals results in the rotation of the alternator shaft, as described previously. The angular velocity of the alternator shaft has to reach 1200 revolutions per minute (RPM) in order for regulator on the alternator to function properly, and enable the virtual-reality program to control the resistance to pedal turning.

State S1 has a time out of 2 seconds. If the specified 1200 RPM value has not been reached by then, the state machine returns to IDLE. If on the other hand, the specified RPM is reached the machine moves to state S2, which is the preamble for normal operation (alternator). If the state S2 is maintained for at least 2 seconds, the state machine moves to the normal operation state denoted with RUN. In this state the power generated by the alternator is sufficient to realized the resistance to pedaling, and the virtual-reality program can function uninterrupted accepting the information from the input sensors and tracking the motion of the user's own virtual bicycle.

Inasmuch as the alternator shaft, in one embodiment, requires minimum 1000 RPM to provide pedaling resistance, the state machine will move to SHUT state if this condition is not met. Since it is possible that this condition is accidentally met while the user is still pedaling and has a pause in pedaling, if while in the SHUT state, the RPM increases above 1000 RPM again, the state machine moves to RUN again. If the alternator shaft has angular velocity less than 1000 RPM for longer than 2 seconds, the state machine moves from SHUT to IDLE. The hardware state machine is active regardless of in which exercise mode (described below) cardio-fitness station is operated. It is clear that different alternators may use different values for a minimum RPM, and thus that the nominal values of 1000 and 1200 RPM for this embodiment may be different in other embodiments.

Operation of an Embodiment

Exercise Modes

The cardio-fitness station in one embodiment exhibits three exercise modes: Manual Mode, TV Mode, and Tour Mode. The entry into these modes can be executed at the beginning of exercise or anytime during the exercise on the cardio-fitness station by pressing the appropriate keypad on the user input keypad shown in FIG. 9: Key K101 for Manual Mode, key K102 for Tour Mode, and K103 for TV Mode. The features of each these modes are explained with the help of FIG. 11.

In the Manual Mode, the user exercises while sitting on the cardio-fitness station and pedaling. In this mode, the resistance to pedaling (the level of force resisting the pedal rotation) can be selected from an integer number of resistance levels. The number of levels is 15 in one embodiment, but may be larger or smaller. Each resistance level corresponds to a constant, but different force necessary to rotate the pedals, i.e., the pedals require fixed, cadence-independent torque to rotate. The user can change the resistance level (pedal torque) through an integer number of levels by using a control level available on the cardio-fitness station. In one embodiment the pedal resistance levels are incremented or decremented using the gear-shifter handle C148. The force resisting the rotation is independent of cadence.

The user further optionally selects a type of music she wants to hear on the headphones by pressing one of the channel keys K104 on the keypad K100. The volume of the music heard on the headphones is adjusted using the volume keys K105. A static predetermined image may be displayed on the video monitor. The headphones play selected music type delivered directly from the computer H150. The music files played upon selection are stored on the storage media in the computer H150.

In the TV Mode, the user exercises while sitting on the cardio-fitness station and pedaling. She enters the TV Mode by pressing key K103 on the user input keypad (FIG. 9). In this mode, the resistance to pedaling (the level of force resisting the pedal rotation) can be selected from an integer number of resistance levels. The number of levels is 15 in one embodiment, but may be larger or smaller. Each resistance level corresponds to a constant, but different force necessary to rotate the pedals, i.e., the pedals require fixed, cadence-independent torque to rotate. The user can change the resistance level (pedal torque) through an integer number of levels by using a control level available on the cardio-fitness station. In one embodiment the pedal resistance levels are incremented or decremented using the gear-shifter handle C148. The force resisting the rotation is independent of cadence. She selects a television program she wants to watch by pressing one of the channel keys K104 on the keypad K100. The television program is displayed on the video monitor and the headphones play the sound associated with the same television program, all delivered by a television cable via the computer H150 (shown in FIG. 10). FIG. 14 shows an example screen in the TV Mode.

In both the Manual Mode and the TV Mode, the video monitor also displays exercise parameters. FIG. 14 shows an example of the display on the video monitor during an exercise in the Manual Mode or the TV Mode. The exercise parameters shown are updated in real time, while the user exercises, and one or more of the following are displayed on the monitor at any given time: current pedal resistance level J101, instantaneous cadence J102, instantaneous dissipated power J103, and measured heart-rate J104.

Exercise in the Tour Mode

In the Tour Mode, the user exercises by sitting and pedaling on the cardio-fitness station, while being engaged in a virtual activity via the video monitor and headphones. The user enters this mode by pressing key K102 on the user input keypad (FIG. 9). FIG. 12 shows the method of practicing the Tour Mode.

By pressing the Tour Mode key K102 (entering the tour mode G102), the video monitor displays several virtual exercise routes (VERs) for the user to choose from. The user is asked to select (G103) one of the available virtual exercise routes (VERs) (G101) by means of moving the up and down keys K107 (in FIG. 9) and making a selection using the ENTER key K108 (in FIG. 9). In the example shown in FIG. 12, the user selects VER designated with number m. In one embodiment, each virtual exercise route has a name and a difficulty level displayed next to the selection. Upon selection the desired VER, the user is offered a choice whether a pacer is to be present (G104). The selection is performed similarly to above, using the keys K107 and K108. If pacer is selected, the user is offered to set the power level (G105) that that the pacer should dissipate while riding through the selected virtual exercise route. In the next step, the user is asked select whether additional riders should be present (G106) on the virtual exercise route. At this point the user is instructed by a text on the video monitor to start pedaling (G107). If the user was already pedaling is inconsequential.

As the user starts pedaling (G108), the video monitor shows a virtual landscape and the image that the virtual rider of the user's own virtual bicycle sees in front of her. The virtual countryside or the virtual exercise route is determined at the start of the tour and it does not change unless the user exists the tour. With these actions, the user is experiencing a virtual tour. The user may interrupt (G109) the Tour Mode by pressing the TV Mode key K103, the Manual Mode key K102, or ceasing the pedaling. After a predetermined time with no pedaling, the cardio-fitness station will go back into the idle state. Alternatively, the user may complete the entire virtual exercise route and the upon reaching the finish line, the tour ends, providing the user with a summary of information. In one embodiment, the user is offered to save (G110) the exercise parameters acquired during her exercise on the virtual exercise route, and the data is then saved (G111) on mass storage. At this point, the process terminates (G112).

FIG. 2 shows an example image V400 on the video monitor that the user will see while operating the cardio-fitness station in the Tour Mode. The user's own virtual bicycle is perceived as riding through a predetermined virtual landscape V122. In the image shown in FIG. 2 a predetermined path V120 is set and the user is advised to maintain the user's own virtual bicycle on this predetermined path V120 in predetermined virtual landscape V122. The example landscape V122 also includes virtual trees V121, virtual houses V127, and virtual hills V128. The image also includes other virtual bicycles with computer-generated bikers V107. The image V400 shows two example virtual bikers V107 in the known presence of the user's own virtual bicycle. The user's own virtual bicycle is not shown on the screen. The image on the video monitor V400 optionally shows an image of virtual handlebars V101 on the user's own virtual bicycle in order to infer the presence of the user's own virtual bicycle. Not shown are animals and other objects or obstacles that may appear in the virtual environment.

In addition to the mentioned virtual-reality image, the image V400 on the video monitor includes information display overlaid over the virtual reality image. This overlaid display includes the following information: V100 is the map of the virtual exercise route in the virtual landscape and user's own virtual bicycle position on that path. V108 shows a summary of time, total dissipated calories (or Joule), miles traveled, and distance remaining. In the case where off-road biking is allowed, the distance remaining may not be present. Area V129 shows the instructions to the user. In one embodiment, where the virtual coach is employed, this area is used to give instruction to the user. The detailed view of the lower part of the video screen V400, referred to as the heads-up display is shown in FIG. 3.

The example heads-up display shown in FIG. 3 displays exercise information: Cadence Z101 is the momentary rotational speed of the pedals measured in revolutions per minute. The gear number V108 (and Z102) is gear number to which the user's own virtual bicycle is currently set. Cadence Z101 and the current gear number Z102 determine the bicycle speed Z103 measured in miles per hour or any other suitable speed units. The position of the virtual bicycle in the virtual landscape determines the slope against which the bicycle is moving (when pedals are rotating). The slope is noted with “grade” Z104. From the grade Z104 and the speed Z103 of the user's own virtual bicycle, the virtual reality program calculates the resistance the rider should feel on the pedals consistent with the real life experience. This information is communicated to the pedal assembly, which adjusts electronically the resistance to rotation. With known resistance to rotation and cadence, the program also calculates the momentary power dissipation by the user. This power is measured in Watts and it is shown with Z110. The total time spent riding, the total energy dissipated (calories), and miles traveled are shown with V108.

In one embodiment, the path on which the user is to virtually ride is predetermined at the beginning of the session, i.e. virtual exercise route. In this case, the map and the elevation profile of the virtual exercise route are known. The map is schematically shown with V100 and the elevation profile is shown on the screen (example is shown on V102 and V111). The momentary position of virtual bicycle on this virtual exercise route is noted in V100 and V112. In addition, the distance remaining on the predetermined path is shown in V108.

Storing and Replaying Exercise Sessions

In one embodiment, the user executes one exercise session (or interrupts a session) and saves the information about the tour and exercise parameters. In other words, the temporal information of the user's own virtual user bicycle position, direction, speed and acceleration through the entire path since the beginning of the session in the Tour Mode is saved on mass storage. This action is referred to as saving the session. The information saved is sufficient to reconstruct the entire virtual ride upon request. In one embodiment the user reviews this information at a later time, in order to assess his exercise ability or for purposes of statistical data collection. In another embodiment, the user may watch the entire pre-recorded session on the monitor screen, and in yet another embodiment, the user may use the saved session to control one of the virtual riders in the same virtual landscape and then next to this prerecorded rider. Finally, in another embodiment, the recorded session is not recorded by the user, but by user's instructor or coach. In this way the user may race against oneself and or use one's pre-recorded session to improve one's performance.

Networked Exercise

In one embodiment of a method of exercise, a single user is exercising on a cardio-fitness station and interacting with the virtual environment provided by the computer on the cardio-fitness station. FIG. 15 summarizes what bicycles are tracked and shown on the video monitor, and virtual objects (persons) are controlled in this embodiment. User 1 rides on Station 1. Station 1 video monitor shows that the virtual-reality program running on the computer on Station 1 tracks the user's own virtual bicycle (virtual bicycle 1 in FIG. 15), a pacer (“Pacer 1”) if pacer was selected, and a number of computer-generated riders with respective bicycles, if “other riders” was selected (e.g. in FIG. 12). These computer-generated bicycles are referred to as artificial intelligence riders (AI riders). User 1 exercises on the cardio-fitness station and thereby controls the actions of the “virtual bicycle 1” in the virtual environment. The User 1's control does not influence the riding of Pacer 1, but it has an effect on the presence of the AI riders: AI riders may be present only in the part of the virtual exercise route where User 1 can see them. In some embodiments, AI riders are persistent—they are tracked throughout the exercise route, for example. In other embodiments, the AI riders are not persistent, and may only be tracked when visible, for example.

In another embodiment of a method of exercise, two cardio-fitness stations are connected via a communication link. A communication link may be a wireless link or a computer cable link. In this embodiment, at least two cardio-fitness stations are in use at the same time by users 1 and 2. Each user proceeds with the same Tour Mode entry procedure, and they select the same virtual exercise route. The two users exercise jointly within the same virtual environment. It is clear that in this embodiment more than two users can exercise jointly in the same virtual environment, and that these users may also be joined by any number of AI riders.

FIG. 16 illustrates what virtual bodies computers track, what video monitors show, what the users of two cardio-fitness stations connected via a communication link control. User 1 is exercises on station 1, while user 2 exercises on station 2. The virtual-reality program running on the computer of station 1 tracks (a) the user 1 own virtual bicycle (“Virtual bicycle 1”), (b) optional pacer on station 1 (“Pacer 1”), (c) optional at least one AI rider on station 1, and (d) virtual bicycle 2. The virtual-reality program running on the computer of station 2 tracks (a) virtual bicycle 1, (b) user 2 own virtual bicycle (virtual bicycle 2), (c) optional pacer on station 2 (Pacer 2), (d) optional AI riders on station 2. Video monitors on respective stations show what the respective computers track. Virtual bicycle 1 is controlled by user 1 exercising on station 1, while virtual bicycle 2 is controlled by user 2 riding on station 2. The actions of virtual bicycle 1 seen on station 2 video monitor are controlled by user 1 via communication link W111. Similarly, the actions of virtual bicycle 2 seen on video monitor of station 1 are controlled by user 2 on station 2 via communication link W112. This implementation is extended to more than two stations in a straightforward way: On each one station of a any number of stations connected using a communication link, additional virtual bicycles appear for every additional station on which the user has selected the same virtual exercise route. In this way, two or more users can exercise and watch each other on the same virtual exercise route. In an embodiment, the two or more users race against each other, and against other riders.

In one embodiment, two or more users exercise each user on own cardio-fitness station. FIG. 17 shows an example with two users. User 1 riders on station Y101 and watches the virtual environment on screen Y102 of station Y101. User 2 rides on station Y201 and watches the virtual environment on screen Y202 of station Y201. Both users ride the predetermined virtual path or landscape. One of the virtual riders in the landscape is controlled by User 1 and one is controlled by User 2. There may be more riders who are either controlled by other users (not shown) or may be computer generated. The computers run virtual reality programs and are simulating at least two mentioned virtual riders in the same virtual environment. Virtual rider 1 is the primary virtual rider on station Y101 and hence, user 1 sees what the primary virtual rider 1 sees. The primary virtual rider on station 1 sees the virtual rider 2 which is controlled by user 2 on station Y201. Similarly, user 2 sees on her video monitor Y202 what the primary virtual user of station 2, i.e., user 2 sees. The primary virtual user of station 2 sees the virtual image of user 1 in the same virtual environment.

The actions of user 1 on station Y101 are communicated via a wireless link indicated with waves Y103 to station Y201. The actions of user 2 on station Y201 are communicated via a wireless link indicated with waves Y203 to station Y101. More than two stations can communicate amongst each other.

Another set of embodiments is described with reference to FIG. 18. FIG. 18 shows illustratively shows three cardio-fitness stations L101, L201, and L301 connected to the Internet network L501 using respective connection cables L503. The following description applies if at least one station is connected, but any number can be used in various embodiments. On each station there is a respective user. User 1 exercises on station L101, user 2 on station L201, and user 3 on station L301. The Internet Network L501 may be connected to a remote server L505 via another connection L504. The locations of the stations and the server may be very distant from each other, for example, the stations may be separated thousands of miles, and may be thousands of miles away from the server.

In one embodiment, each of cardio-fitness stations communicates with all other cardio fitness stations, sending information on activity of the user of that station and the sound from that station. Consequently, each station receives information about the activity of every other station and the sound coming from the user of every other station. In this way, users may interact, race or ride together, even if they not local.

In another embodiment, the every station sends user activity data to the server, where the data is stored on mass storage along with the identity of the user. User activity includes exercise data, user performance on a specific VER, and the statistics of all previous performances. In yet another embodiment, the stored information about user activity is used to control a virtual bicycle on a station in use. In this way the user may ride next to a so-called ghost rider, which is a pre-recorded ride of oneself (or somebody else). The user's identity is recognized by the server (the user has registered with the server) and the server delivers this information to the station wherever in the world the station is located. The user's exercise data is available to her globally. In another embodiment, the server provides statistics and summary of past performance for every user.

In another embodiment, using the Internet connection, the virtual-reality software and the control program on each one of the cardio-fitness stations can be upgraded by downloading a software upgrade form the server via the Internet connection.

In yet another embodiment, newly developed virtual exercise routes can be downloaded to any one cardio-fitness station located anywhere in the world, producing a revenue stream for the developed VERs and maintainer of the server.

In this way, every user of the cardio-fitness station maintains a global user identification and can exercise on cardio-fitness station located anywhere in the world, yet be recognized by the cardio-fitness station and have the cardio-fitness station remember her preferences, past performance, and preferred virtual exercise routes, thereby creating a significantly more enjoyable experience in exercising. Additionally, the user of a cardio-fitness station, when away in a different country has the ability to exercise and communicate while exercising with her own exercise partners who may be miles away.

Fitness Program

To maximize cardio-fitness it is common for exercise equipment to provide and guide the user through a predetermined fitness program. A fitness program is a predetermined sequence of exercise rate or manner of motion with the objective make the user exercise in a controlled manner. The objectives of the fitness program may be (a) the dissipation of a predetermined energy (number of calories), (b) in case of an exercise bicycle, the exercise equivalent to traversing a specific predetermined distance over a predetermined virtual landscape, and (c) maintaining the heart rate within certain predetermined bounds throughout a predetermined sequence of energy dissipation segments, for example hill and valleys on a virtual bike path.

The exercise program will typically include a warm-up stage, and at least one exercise stage and cool-down stage. The exercise program may also be tailored to provide aerobic or anaerobic exercises. Anaerobic exercise is an activity in which the body incurs an oxygen debt, while aerobic exercise is a physical exercises (as running, walking, swimming, or calisthenics) strenuously performed so as to cause marked temporary increase in respiration and heart rate. In one embodiment, the instructions from the computer, according to the fitness plan, are delivered to the user via a message on the video monitor. This function is referred to as virtual coach.

Global Identification and Data Access

In one embodiment, a remote computer, referred to as a server, maintains information about the exercise parameters on any one cardio-fitness station.

In one embodiment, the VER is stored locally on the cardio-fitness' computer. In another embodiment, the VER is stored on a remote server and accessed via Internet. The new VER crated at the central location and located on to the server as periodically uploaded to every station, and every station may keep the VER, or can have access to the selection directly form the computer. New upgrades of control software and virtual reality software are available form the server—thereby eliminating the need for local upgrades.

In one embodiment, the user profile, statistics and past performance on the same machine or any VER is stored on the server, and hence accessible anywhere in the works using the Internet connection between the cardio-fitness station and the server. In this way, the user has an identification name that is recognized globally, i.e., a so-called global identification (Global ID).

Other Embodiments

In the one embodiment, the cardio-fitness machine includes a stationary bicycle, but is understood that the exercise equipment be a treadmill, rowing machine, skier, stair climber or other such device. The exercise equipment provides the user with exercise movements (pedaling, rowing or stepping). A load device applies a load resistance in opposition to the exercise movement to induce exercise.

The various embodiments have been discussed in conjunction with use of computer programs. Such a computer program may be stored in a computer readable storage medium such as but not limited to any type of disk including floppy disks, optical disks, CD roms and magnetic optical disks, read only memories, random access memories, EPROMS, EEPROMS, magnetic or optical cards or any type of media suitable for storing electronic constructions and each coupled to a computer system bus. Each of these media may be coupled to a computer system bus through use of an appropriate device for reading and or writing the media in question.

Features and aspects of various embodiments may be integrated into other embodiments, and embodiments illustrated in this document may be implemented without all of the features or aspects illustrated or described. One skilled in the art will appreciate that although specific examples and embodiments of the system and methods have been described for purposes of illustration, various modifications can be made in various embodiments. For example, embodiments of the present invention may be applied to many different types of exercise equipment and computer programs. Moreover, features of one embodiment may be incorporated into other embodiments, even where those features are not described together in a single embodiment within the present document.

Many embodiments have been specifically described as including components from one or more figures in combination. However, other components may be substituted. Similarly, components may be grouped or subdivided in various ways. Thus, embodiments may be formed using some of the components and offering some of the features described, and may include components not described or offer features not described in this document. Moreover, features of one embodiment may be incorporated into other embodiments, even where those features are not described together in a single embodiment within the present document.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification482/8, 482/900, 482/902
International ClassificationA63B71/00
Cooperative ClassificationA63B22/0605, A63B2220/30, A63B2024/009, A63B2230/06, A63B2071/0644, A63B71/0622, A63B24/0084, A63B2225/20
European ClassificationA63B22/08, A63B71/06D2, A63B24/00J
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Nov 25, 2008ASAssignment
Owner name: SILICON VALLEY BANK, CALIFORNIA
Free format text: SECURITY AGREEMENT;ASSIGNOR:EXPRESSO FITNESS CORPORATION;REEL/FRAME:021886/0892
Effective date: 20081124
Owner name: SILICON VALLEY BANK,CALIFORNIA
Free format text: SECURITY AGREEMENT;ASSIGNOR:EXPRESSO FITNESS CORPORATION;US-ASSIGNMENT DATABASE UPDATED:20100329;REEL/FRAME:21886/892
Free format text: SECURITY AGREEMENT;ASSIGNOR:EXPRESSO FITNESS CORPORATION;REEL/FRAME:21886/892
Nov 6, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: EXPRESSO FITNESS CORPORATION, CALIFORNIA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:FISHER, JOHN;THOMPSON, KEITH;NICOLI, LUCA;REEL/FRAME:018486/0767;SIGNING DATES FROM 20061102 TO 20061103