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Getting out of the building helped us build the ultimate exercise device

December 24, 2020

"There are no facts inside the building, get outside" - Steve Blank

We started building SymGym because of our boredom with existing exercise equipment. All other exercise devices force the same repetitive movements over and over (and over). Above all, we wanted SymGym to have completely independent arm and leg movements, so you can actually "play", instead of pedaling or running in place. We wanted to be able to run,  kick, punch, row, duck, or jump. All kinds of different movements to allow you play games, compete with others, and get a workout.

This turned out to be an extraordinarily difficult task. Making a device with fully independent movement while tracking position, velocity, and acceleration at a cost less than a NASA flight simulator took over a dozen prototypes. But after all that work we built a system that was fun and interactive. We had a blast playing on it.

But it wasn't enough to just build something we wanted for ourselves. We needed to find out whether we were on the right track. Was this something that other would be interested in? Were our friends and family just being nice? (They said they liked the whipped cream filled hot dog idea, too).

So we took SymGym out out on the road. (And hauling 250 lbs (113 kg) of device and related equipment through loading docks and muscling up narrow venue stairways for these demos is no trivial task.)

We demo'd for every different audience we could think of; gamers at SXSW, general audiences at Maker Faires, professionals at Chicago networking events, and workout enthusiasts at fitness shows. Overall, more than 1500 demo rides

With feedback from everyone who would talk with us. We adapted the motion of the arms and pedals. We changed the resistance mechanism (3 times) so we can from 0 to 150 lbs of force in milliseconds for an augmented reality experience. Now, for example,  the pedal resistance can increase when you're running uphill in a game, and the arm resistance can be more when you're pushing open a door against a gaggle of zombies, as opposed to opening a regular door.

We updated our software. We solicited independent game designers to join our game development program. We surveyed players before and after test rides. (57% of those surveyed after a demo said they'd be interested in purchasing SymGym.)

Getting out of the building helped us build the ultimate exercise device, the one you'll use.

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