Stay Active at Home With These 6 Fun AR / VR Apps

column | Virtual Reality

Stay Active at Home With These 6 Fun AR / VR Apps

By Jaime Donally (Columnist)     May 28, 2020

Stay Active at Home With These 6 Fun AR / VR Apps

Remote learning may be new for millions of educators, but as someone who’s worked from home for the past four years, I can confidently say you do adjust.

I suppose I learned my work habits from my father. My dad would spend his days at work and then come home and work on his own company into the late evenings. Unfortunately, the lack of sleep eventually caught up with him, and he passed away from a heart attack while traveling overseas. Many people would praise my dad for all that he accomplished, not realizing how serious it affected his body. Recognizing hard work and dedication is important, but we must also learn to have a healthy balance.

Realizing that I am also at risk for heart issues, I’ve become more interested in regularly evaluating my heart. One tool that I’ve found beneficial in monitoring my heart health is the Insight Heart app ($1.99-$2.49; iOS and Android). The app connects with my Apple Watch and iPhone to track my heart rate and displays it in augmented reality. When you get close enough to the heart, you can feel it beating in your hand through phone vibrations (known as haptic feedback). Watch the video below to see how Insight Heart tracks my heart rate through my Apple Watch while visualizing the heart rate in AR.

I’m finally comfortable with organizing my time, setting up regular video chats, and creating a reasonable to-do checklist. One area I continue to work on is training my family and friends that I’m still doing work while I work from home. Now that COVID-19 is keeping many of us home, I understand their struggles, ranging from isolation to time management. My children are now on regular video chats, as is my husband, a middle school science teacher. We’ve redesigned our home to adapt to multiple meeting spaces and upgraded our Wi-Fi to meet the demands.

In addition to the new work adjustments, my family has struggled to stay active and noticed that we spent an enormous amount of time in one spot all day. We’re thankful to live in a location with a warm climate that allows us to be outdoors, but there are days when we've struggled to get up and move, or when rain prevents us from going outside. One of the ways we've responded favorably to physical activity has been through immersive technology. Here are some ways to remain active while having some fun as individuals or as a group using augmented and virtual reality.

Beat Saber (VR; $29.99)


One of my favorite ways of staying active using immersive technology takes place in a VR headset. Using my Oculus Quest, my entire family will challenge each other on Beat Saber. I first observed the game while attending a conference and sharing AR and VR with my friend and fellow conference presenter Steve Dembo. He was sharing it on the Oculus Rift, but with the Oculus Quest, users can engage in active play untethered to a computer.

The game places the player in an alley, and in your hands are a red (left) and blue (right) lightsaber. Music begins to play while red and blue cubes approach. The goal is to cut the cubes before they reach you while avoiding obstacles.

If you connect with friends on your Oculus Quest, you'll notice a leaderboard that shows top scores for each game and level. I typically get a few notifications a day, showing a challenger exceeded my score. The more notifications I receive, the more I’m enticed to improve my score.

According to the VR Health Network, the Beat Saber game is equivalent to playing tennis, although most of the movement is using your arms with some walking side to side. The network states the average user will burn anywhere from 308 to 343 calories in 30 minutes of activity. Depending on the level of play, I will find myself sweating during the game and even fog up my screen. The app also connects with a few wearables for calorie tracking for the most precise results.

Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! (VR; $19.99)

App Store | Google Play | Oculus

Another recent VR favorite in my house is the multiplayer Acron: Attack of the Squirrels, which uses multiple perspectives. As one player uses the Oculus Quest (playing as a tree), the other players (squirrels) work together on mobile devices.

The tree's goal is to protect the acorns from the squirrels using the available tools (goop and bombs) or to grab the squirrels and to throw them far away. The squirrels, of course, try to steal the acorns. When time runs out, the tree wins if it saves even one acorn from the squirrels’ baskets.

My friend and fellow gamer Jonathan Spike recommended the Acron game as one of the best party games on the Quest. For the best experience, play the game with decent internet speed to stay on the same server; otherwise, you will need to start the game over when it becomes disconnected.

While these virtual reality experiences are amazing, not all the activities require a high-end VR headset. The following resources are applications for your mobile devices.

Supernatural (VR; subscription)

App Store | Google Play | Oculus

If you combine Beat Saber with a virtual personal trainer, you’d get Supernatural. The instructor supports you in getting the best workout through encouragement, reminders and guidance. The exercises turn you around 360 degrees, use full motion with your arms and require you to squat while moving side to side.

If you're wondering if real exercise can take place in virtual reality, the answer is YES. In my first workout, I spent about a half-hour exercising in the most beautiful locations around the world. In my gym, I'm stuck looking at the same boring scenery, but not so in this virtual reality workout.

Supernatural includes familiar music that makes the user immediately feel comfortable and focused. The accompanying pop music also puts this app at a Teen rating (13+) because of the lyrics. The virtual reality experience makes the workout experience more fun and entertaining, but unfortunately, the muscle soreness is sustained back in our reality.

One of my favorite features in Supernatural is the integration with my Apple Watch. I was able to download the Supernatural app on my iPhone and view the report of my workout including the accuracy, power and heart rate during the exercise.

I plan to continue using the app for the remainder of the trial period, but the cost is steep unless you plan to cancel your gym membership.

Minecraft Earth (AR; free)

App Store | Google Play

The moment that Minecraft Earth Beta was available, I immediately downloaded the app because I had been waiting months for its release. Since then, the app has pushed out regular updates to keep us all engaged and excited about this augmented reality Minecraft experience.

Similar to classic Minecraft, students can create in the app, but with the additional benefit of playing in AR. In short, your Minecraft world is placed in your living room, and you can collect and place items while walking around your build plate. The app also makes use of a relatively new AR feature called people occlusion, where players can walk in front of and behind blocks.

Players collect items by viewing the map and mining. Like Pokemon Go, all the items must be within a certain geographic proximity, encouraging you to walk to new locations to collect different things. One of the best features in Minecraft Earth is the collaboration, where students can share their inventory of items to build something together. The free app is an incredible new resource for your classroom as your students can make and create, while being motivated to get up and move to expand their inventory.

The first person I shared the app with is my good friend Marialice Curran because her son loved playing Minecraft. In a short amount of time, she went from a learner to the leader in our community as she spends time mining for items around her neighborhood. I felt the pressure to keep up, so I decided to start mining for items around my town. In my pursuit to “level up,” I was motivated to walk miles to reach the latest mob, or creature.

A fair warning when playing Minecraft Earth, especially while walking: The app is a significant battery hog unless you turn on battery saver mode.

Scavengar (AR; free)

App Store

A promising app that I've used for over a year now, Scavengar offers the opportunity to go on an augmented reality scavenger hunt. That alone is impressive, but they’ve recently added an extra benefit: hunts available to play from any location. This feature is vital because most scavenger hunts require the user to go to a specific place to play, which makes it problematic for classrooms that can’t travel.

The Scavengar app allows educators and students to build hunts that move you around a designated space to collect points and answer multiple-choice questions correctly. The app integrates artificial intelligence to find and capture specific items such as colors or objects. An upcoming feature will allow premium users to upload 3D content in the hunt.

As a little bonus, I’ve created a fun hunt for you to play to see some of the app’s capabilities while getting you up and moving. Download the app and jump into the ARVRinEDU AR Hunt on your mobile device to see what you can create with the Scavengar app.

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