Virtual fitness software turns physical activity into a 3-D competition

A Wisconsin business is breathing new life into old cardio equipment, turning that neglected treadmill collecting dust and hangers into a revitalized workout system.

WebRacing uses digital 3-D visual environments connecting new and used indoor cardio equipment wirelessly, transforming exercisers into avatars on screens in real time. The fitness equipment market is nearly $5 billion in the United States and growing, and WebRacing hopes to capture its biggest market segment of home users with a cloud-based launch in 2015.

Ken Burres, a neurosurgeon from California and a triathlete, designed WebRacing’s vision in the late 1990s before computer capabilities were optimal for technology intended for the product. Bruce Winkler acquired the technology in 2007 in Madison.

Winkler is WebRacing’s acting president and CEO; the management team also includes Bill Sotis, president of Prism Fitness Group, and chief sales officer Marshall Madden.

The original trademark was applied for from Burres. “Our name can be viewed as broad,” Winkler said. “We are fortunate for the name and trademark because it describes what we do — interactive social fitness correlated with what happens online.”

WebRacing is offered in either home or commercial products. Home products provide the user with sensors that connect to any fitness equipment in the home. Commercial products are sold in distribution style to locations such as schools and gyms.

WebRacing’s 3-D environment uses computer-generated avatars for users to race against.

“You can get on your cycle and race the avatar that represents your previous pace or best score,” Winkler explains. “You can set a goal to beat yourself, yesterday.”

In addition, WebRacing offers motivators and social drivers in attempts to engage a larger percent of the general population.

“When you plan to race within a group, there is an expectation that you are going to be there,” Winkler explains. “You need to show up with an obligation; it is a lot of fun.”

Installs of WebRacing can be seen amongst five museums, including Disney, Denver Science Museum and a location opening in Texas in May 2014. With the ultimate goal of building a worldwide community through the WebRacing software and fitness products delivered online, the company plans to give commercial and home users an enhanced fitness experience with immediate funding of $500,000 to finance first products and effective marketing channels, as well as technical and inventory support.

Eventually, the company hopes to sell the software to larger fitness players or next-round financing penetrating 3 percent of fitness equipment market sales.

WebRacing has been selected as a finalist in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 3-4 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison.

— By Erin Anderson, for Anderson is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.