25 Sep 2022 World leisure: news, training & property
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Fit Tech
2021 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Refining augmented reality

Augmented Reality

Refining augmented reality

London boutique The Refinery has created an avatar-led digital fitness offering called ALFI, which utilises augmented reality (AR) to demonstrate movements. Zoe Bertali, one of the co-founders of the gym, tells us more

Zoe Bertali, co-founder of The Refiner The Refinery
Using an avatar rather than a human instructor will allow The Refinery to bring new content to the app more quickly The Refinery
Bertali says the app will complement members’ in-studio training The Refinery
In the near future, users will be able to use AR glasses with the app The Refinery

Where did the idea for ALFI come from?
In 2018, boutique fitness was booming, but it seemed to be London-centric and we wanted to bring the experience to other locations in the UK. We were at the time considering the possibility of opening more bricks and mortar sites, however we believed that in order to really grow our brand and reach more people, we needed to move into the digital space.

We also wanted to be able to offer huge amounts of classes very quickly at the touch of a button. With the logic and method we have created, we can bring a new discipline to the app with hundreds of classes in around 6-8 weeks. Live video filming of this type of content would take much longer.

Why do you think an avatar is a great way to deliver fitness instruction?
In the age of endless selfies, people are under pressure to look ‘perfect’, live their ‘best’ life, always be ‘busy’, do the latest exercise in the coolest places, be seen constantly, experience everything, eat this, don’t eat that... It’s no wonder people are crumbling under the pressure and that mental health issues, stress and depression are on the rise.

Although some people may be inspired by apps showing the perfect body doing the perfect yoga or fitness practice, for most it is unattainable and inaccessible. With Refine with ALFI, it’s what’s inside that counts – the glow comes from within!

Building resilience and strength from the inside gives people the space to reconnect with what’s really important – grounding them in the moment, which has a tremendous calming effect on the entire nervous system, strengthening the immune system and the body’s ability to heal itself.

How did you develop ALFI?
We started with the two most popular disciplines at our The Refinery studio – Yoga and HIIT. We then developed and built a logic algorithm that would be used to build the classes intelligently from a minimum of 10 minutes up to 90 minutes.

We wanted the classes to be seamless, so for yoga the challenges came when we had to think about all the potential transitions between each posture and sequence. We then filmed our instructors doing the exercises using 3D motion capture. This information was then translated onto our avatar using the Unity gaming engine.

How did you design the avatar?
Initially we had the concept of making the avatar a big furry monster, but we realised that the movement and form would not be seen as clearly. We therefore developed the avatar to be a neutral humanoid shape. Eventually we may introduce the furry avatar, for fun!

Can users customise the avatar?
We’re able to introduce a lot of features, such as different avatars, accessories, and outfits. We will eventually have a lot more shapes and sizes as we grow the app.

Why did you decide to make the app AR compatible?
We were fascinated with the possibilities of using AR technology, as we felt that most other fitness apps don’t give you such a personal experience. With our app, ALFI will eventually offer you the possibility of having your personalised PT up close and personal. It also allows a completely unique way of working out by offering a 360-degree view of all poses and the class.

Will users need to wear AR glasses?
AR hardware is just around the corner! The glasses are now much more like a pair of reading glasses, so you put them on and you are able to interact with your phone without the use of a static screen. This means that ALFI will be in the room with you and you will be able to see the moves in life size.

Take a look at our teaser AR app to get an experience of this. AR is much more accessible for fitness than VR as it is less immersive and therefore you remain fully aware of your environment around you.

How do you create bespoke classes for the user?
In either Yoga or HIIT you are able to take a studio class which has been set up for you, or you can build your own class. Within the algorithm there are different levels of intensity and also focus areas, so, for instance, you could build a 20-minute Power Yoga class that has a focus on hips.

How will this digital offering complement your in-club offering?
The fundamental objective of ALFI is to inspire and motivate the individual to create a health and fitness routine that makes them feel better from the inside out. We very much see the app as a complement to members’ in-studio training programme. We will offer our members the app as a way for them to stay engaged if they are away from home, or unable to get to the studio.

Tell us about the tokens and charity aspect of the app. Why did you decide on this feature?
We created the token system as a way to still be able to offer social collaboration and recognition for the user. We use virtual rewards for achieving goals – you can use the tokens to buy classes, gift to a friend or give to charity. We wanted the karma element of giving something back when you are doing something amazing for yourself – taking care of your health!

What are your future plans and goals for ALFI?
We will be adding more disciplines in the next 12 months – including Pilates and Body Conditioning. We will also be developing new avatars and environments.

How do you think AR will change the fitness industry?
It will allow on-demand flexibility with the ability to recreate a studio experience with a personal touch.

Refine with ALFI is available now in the Apple app store

Originally published in Fit Tech 2021 issue 2

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