I've got a new word for you, Fools -- a word I think will affect your lives, and those of your kids and grandkids. The word is "virtualetics," a combination of "virtual reality" and athletics," and I think it's going to be the basis of a big and profitable business in the future.
Veni, vidi, vici -- virtually
Nonsense, you say? On the contrary, I'd wager that as you read this article, the first virtualetes are toiling away in front of their flatscreen computers, honing their new skills in a strenuous quest to capture gold at the as-yet-unplanned Virtual Reality Olympics, or some of the many other virtual competitions that I expect will soon dot the landscape.
Witness the Nintendo Wii, a gaming system with motion-sensitive controllers that let players' real-life movements control onscreen actions. It's aimed at audiences beyond the typical gamer market, and its initial success seems to be more than just a passing fad. When I learned that Wii players were getting so excited during games that the wireless Wii controller sometimes flew out of their sweaty hands, I knew the console would pose a little dilemma for Sony's
I then read a review of Wii in the Wall Street Journal, in which a college athlete was quoted as saying, after playing the game, that it was the first time she ever felt competent enough to compete in a video game. The article suggested that the Wii was getting legions of couch potatoes off their duffs. Some gamers were actually sore the next day (heaven forbid) from the physical exertion. I even saw a photo of a woman who'd seriously dislocated her knee while playing with the Wii.
A convergence of technologies
Wii-like gaming consoles and virtual reality technologies are only going to improve with time. Sony and Microsoft will surely develop their own motion-sensitive tools and games in response to Wii's success. In addition, 1 million people now have virtual avatars of themselves on Linden Labs Second Life service, and companies such as IBM
After all, if people can play chess, sudoku, and myriad other games over the Internet, why won't they also play ping pong, tennis, bowling or any number of other as-yet-invented virtual reality games?
These "virtuletic" experiences will be made even more lifelike as high-definition, flat-panel displays from companies like Philips
Add these trends to a faster and more powerful Internet, better sound systems, and haptic technology -- which uses "force feedback" to let people "touch" and "feel" virtual objects -- and you're yet another step closer to creating a realistic setting that will draw in a growing number of virtualetes.
Revenge of the nerds
Last Saturday, after 11 years of futility, the men's basketball team at the California Institute of Technology -- better known at Caltech -- ended a 207-game losing streak against NCAA competitors.
Suffice to say that nature rarely matches brains sophisticated enough to contemplate the complexities of string theory with hamstrings capable of producing a 36-inch vertical leap. This unfortunate fact of life has left the brainy Beavers of Caltech and millions of other relatively unathletic folks to suffer untold indignities at the hands of their more coordinated comrades. Technology, however, will soon smooth out some of these inequities. It could even lead to "virtuletic" events where brains and brawn compete on equal footing.
To the extent that it does, there are millions of nerds waiting to extract revenge. Businesses -- and their investors -- that cater to this untapped market could profit handsomely. Who knows? Caltech might even win the 2010 NCAA Virtual Final Four by defeating the likes of MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Rensselaer Polytechnic.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He owns stock in Microsoft, but holds no financial position in any of the other companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.