Aaron Puzey says it started out of boredom. He'd been toiling away on his exercise bike for half an hour a day for years, and things were beginning to get tedious. "I'd been day dreaming for a while about the possibility of using VR to make it a bit more fun," Puzey told The Verge by email. "And now of course the technology has arrived to make it happen." His solution? Hooking a Galaxy Gear up to Google Street View and cycling the length of the UK — 1,500 kilometers from Land's End to John o' Groats — all from the comfort of his front room.
Puzey has been documenting his travels on his blog, Cycle VR, updating the site with edited video highlights of every 100 kilometers. He says he's been lengthening the amount of time he dedicates to the journey, and reckons he'll be finished in around 50 days.
cycling by Street View reveals the simplicity of Google's data
One of the most interesting things, he says, has been navigating what is a highly constrained 3D world. "The single biggest problem with the Street View data is the high compression on the depth information," says Puzey, with Google storing a limited number of planes to represent complex scenes. "Some things, like buildings, fit very well to this model and look quite solid, but things like trees and hedges and anything lumpy often just looks a mess. I've also seen things like squashed bugs on the Google camera, bad colors in some scenes and strange black 'sink holes'. However, even with those problems it still feels like I'm there."
So much so, that nausea can be a problem, especially when he's navigating complex routes — like roundabouts — that have been squashed into only a few layers of depth. "The problem [is that I'm] telling the 'bike' in VR to face in the direction of the path it was moving along," says Puzey. "Then I had a breakthrough and realized if I make it face about 5 meters ahead of where I was it made an enormous improvement."
Puzey says he had to develop his own app to download the 3D data from Street View and make it viewable in the VR headset, but other than that, the setup was simple. He just taped a Bluetooth cadence monitor to his bike to measure its RPM, and sends this data to the Gear VR as instructions to advance through his route. "I find I have to spend quite a bit of time nursing my app through as it gets stuck or crashes," he adds.
And is he planning on taking any other cycle trips in the future? Puzey says 1,500 kilometers is enough to be going on with for now, but that he's always liked the idea of visiting Japan, and might take a trip there in the future. "Using Street View I can visit pretty much anywhere."