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Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 09:29 GMT
Gamepad aims to build up muscle
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor in Las Vegas

Playing video games is not normally regarded as a vigorous workout session.

Kilowatt game controller
Controller designed to work with PS2, Xbox and PC games
But a new type of gamepad from a US fitness equipment company aims to turn the couch potato gamer stereotype on its head.

The Kilowatt controller by Powergrid is designed to build up muscle while playing a PlayStation 2, Xbox or PC game.

"We take the guilt out of gaming and put the fun back into exercise," said company spokesman Chuck Martinez.

"The reason most exercise machines end up in the garage in the home is that exercise is incredibly boring."

The controller made its debut at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, winning an innovation award.

Pumping iron

The Kilowatt gaming system is a life-size controller that forces gamers to use their muscles to play.

The traditional thumb sticks and buttons on a gamepad are blended into a single shoulder-height joystick.

Kilowatt game controller
With isometrics, unlike lifting weights, you won't see anything move but your muscles will let you know they are working out
Dr Dan Drury, sport medicine expert
The controller is attached to an alloy steel resistance rod and a sensor array.

The sensors measure the microscopic flex in the rod as a gamer pushes and pulls on it.

This is translated into data for the game console, as well as calculating the amount of force used.

In a racing game like Gran Turismo, the harder you push on the joystick, the faster a car goes, while pulling back slows down the vehicle.

The system works on the principle of isometric exercise, which contracts the muscles without moving any joints.

After just a couple of minutes of playing Gran Turismo with the joystick, you can feel the strain in your upper arms and shoulder muscles.

"With isometrics, unlike lifting weights, you won't see anything move but your muscles will let you know they are working out," said Dr Dan Drury, a sport medicine expert who is a paid adviser to Powergrid.

"With the Kilowatt, you are expending calories and you are breaking a sweat. It is actually physically difficult."

Price point

The device costs $695 and will be available in the US from late spring. The company is currently working on getting the product into Europe and Asia.

Despite the relatively high price tag for a gaming accessory, the company is confident there is a market for this type of gadget.

It sees the Kilowatt as a piece of exercise equipment, saying it costs less than a good quality treadmill for the home.

"The average age of people who buy fitness equipment is 31," Mr Martinez told BBC News Online, "and the average age of gamers is 29."

"The Kilowatt is at the intersection of these two and that demographic is capable of paying that kind of price."

Although the gaming system is aimed at the home, the company says it could be used in gyms as it meets the requirements of commercial exercise equipment.




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