SGW Designworks helped Black Box VR develop mechanical hardware and VR game controllers for its immersive workout machine.
Black Box VR needed to make rapid development progress on its virtual reality gym without the risk of hiring a full internal engineering staff.
The client envisioned a machine with handles to grasp, similar to a cable-weight machine, that would be controlled by inputs from the VR system. The project would consist of multiple development efforts, all running in parallel. The primary load resistance system controlled by the VR system would be the most complex hardware element, requiring complete mechanical design for complex industrial equipment.
A smaller ancillary device, The Smart Hands device, also presented interesting challenges. At the time, no hardware existed that was trackable by the HTC Vive VR system other than the HTC controllers. Since users would be holding the weight machine handles during the workout, a tracking device that attaches to the user’s arms would have to be developed. This wearable controller would be tracked in VR (HTC Vive system, Steam VR), and would need to allow the system to know where the user’s arms and hands are located in space, so the user could see the virtual location of their hands without needing to grasp a controller.
SGW Designworks designed, developed, and prototyped the mechanical hardware for the machine and 16 fully functional VR game controllers.
The project involved a full redesign of existing HTC Vive controller PCBAs, full mechanical design, industrial design, multiple prototype iterations, and iterative development of sensor placement and orientation to achieve reliable tracking in VR. Design iteration focused on the placement of IR sensors to achieve exceptional tracking in VR, as well as form factor optimization and wearability.
Our embedded systems group redesigned and reconfigured the existing HTC Vive controller circuitry while mechanical engineers devised enclosure configurations and collaborated on aesthetics with the client. Next, the electronics and shape work were integrated into the preliminary design, which served as the basis for initial physical prototypes. Our engineers focused on design iteration and rapid prototype cycles, leading to a design suitable for external use.
Twelve months and five phases after kicking off the project, Black Box VR used prototypes built by SGW Designworks to make its public debut of the complete system at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The virtual gym received the attention of industry professionals and the press, and over 1,000 people used the system at CES without a breakdown. Black Box VR won a coveted CES Innovation Award and Engadget’s Best Startup of CES 2018 award.
Shortly after, the company began steady-state production of the system. Black Box VR is actively rolling out gym locations in the U.S., making workouts fun and challenging while helping people reach their fitness goals.
Co-Founder and CCO, Black Box VR