News: Roller Coasters Ride Into Dizzying Realm of Virtual Reality
09-02-2016 08:26 AM
By DANIEL MICHAELS
RUST, Germany—For roller-coaster fans bored by loops and drops, design professor Thomas Wagner offers the extra twist of flying dragons, battles with aliens or a midair rescue by Superman.
They can all be experienced at newly equipped amusement parks—in virtual reality.
Mr. Wagner last year launched the first VR gear for roller coasters in partnership with Mack Rides GmbH, one of the world’s top producers of amusement park rides. This year Six Flags Entertainment Corp. has been introducing the headsets, which use Samsung Electronics Co.’s phones, across its 18 North American parks.
A competing system, developed by British 3-D and VR studio Figment Productions Ltd., opened at an English amusement park in March.
Riders wearing the specially reinforced VR headgear are immersed in a fantasyland where they soar, plunge and twist in sync with a coaster’s motion.
Theme-park operators are enthusiastic because the innovation lets them repackage old rides digitally, without the cost of building or refurbishing a giant physical structure. That, in turn, can entice repeat visits from potentially jaded thrill-seekers.
People wear virtual reality glasses while riding a roller coaster at Europa Park in Germany. PHOTO: REDERICK FLORIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
“It’s very significant for us,” said Sam Rhodes, corporate director of design at Six Flags. “It gives us an opportunity to remarket a coaster again and again.”
Amusement and theme parks are booming world-wide, generating revenue of roughly $32 billion last year, up almost 40% from 2009, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc., a market research firm. But competition among parks and from other types of entertainment is intense.
Major park operators must “provide innovative amusement facilities such as outrageous rides and generate exclusive entertainment environments,” GIA said in a report on the industry. “Usage of entertainment-related technology is increasingly becoming imperative for the success of a theme park.”
Of more than 3,000 coasters world-wide, fewer than 25 have VR gear.
In the burgeoning tech world of virtual reality, meanwhile, couch-bound users love roller-coaster scenarios. Mr. Wagner, a 39-year-old professor of digital design for games and movies at the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern, near Frankfurt, flipped the concept by converting an actual roller coaster ride into a fantasy adventure.
The idea started in early 2014 as a class project to reduce the dizziness that stationary VR users often feel because the brain sees motion but doesn’t feel it. Mr. Wagner approached Michael Mack, a top executive at family-owned Mack Rides who oversees its Europa Park theme park in southwest Germany. Intrigued, Mr. Mack let Mr. Wagner’s team ride coasters before and after park hours through that summer, using laptops and bulky VR goggles to perfect synchronization.
The first rough prototype eliminated VR-induced vertigo thanks to physical motion and wowed everyone involved, but faced problems. “People doubted it would work in the real world,” recalled Mr. Wagner.
Wireless VR technology wasn’t mature and computers couldn’t be mounted on roller coasters because the vibrations would destroy microchips. Wiring headsets to riders’ seats raised safety concerns about snagged cables.
But mobile VR headsets were due on the market. So Mr. Wagner and the Macks established VR Coaster GmbH to develop and market the technology. The project remained secret due to potential competition.
Mr. Mack realized VR could threaten his family’s booming ride-manufacturing operation, which evolved from a carriage workshop started in 1780 and once made circus caravans. But he said he decided “it’s better to be a part of it and a first-mover.”
In September, Europa Park’s child-friendly “Alpenexpress” locomotive ride went live with a VR romp among cartoon animals. Headset wearers experience a corkscrew loop that the tame ride doesn’t do.
Soon after, Six Flags and other operators jumped onboard. Pricing is confidential.
Six Flags, which operates 135 coasters in North America, scrambled to make safe headgear that could be donned in seconds and it worked with doctors on hygiene, said Mr. Rhodes. Since headsets press against sweaty faces, the company uses up to four per coaster seat and swaps them out for cleaning and maintenance.
In March, Six Flags debuted the technology to relaunch its 1976-vintage Revolution coaster in Los Angeles—the world’s first coaster with a full loop—on its 40th birthday. Riders experience an airborne battle against invading aliens. It then added a Superman adventure and in July relaunched its Demon coaster as “Rage of the Gargoyles,” an interactive adventure in which riders can shoot at virtual monsters by looking at them.
Around the time Mr. Wagner’s class started at Europa Park, Figment Managing Director Simon Reveley hit on the same idea in Britain, though using a different approach to synchronizing the video with the ride.
Figment’s Vector VR runs only on Merlin Entertainments PLC’s refitted Galactica ride in central England, though Mr. Reveley said he is in talks about other installations. Vector headsets are tethered to seats and include audio. The system entails installation to refit a whole coaster and requires staff to wipe headsets with disinfectant cloths while riders exit and enter.
VR Coaster, which has no audio, is now on about 20 rides world-wide. On most it is offered as an option, meaning parks can pitch both a virtual or traditional version of the coaster. Staff are needed to help riders gear-up and manage headset swaps.
Park operators hope next to offer augmented reality, where computer-generated images are inserted into live images of the rider’s surroundings, as in Pokmon Go.
“We are looking at probably everything you can imagine,” said Mr. Rhodes.
I myself would love to try this. Awesome idea.08-30-2016 03:38 PMLike 0
- Through the Lenses
- VR News & Discussion
News: Roller Coasters Ride Into Dizzying Realm of Virtual Reality
- By Cale Hunt in forum Playstation VRReplies: 14Last Post: 10-08-2016, 01:25 PM
- By VR Question in forum Ask a Question (no registration!)Replies: 2Last Post: 09-04-2016, 04:28 AM
- By VirtuaTyKing in forum VR News & DiscussionReplies: 1Last Post: 09-02-2016, 08:24 AM
- By VR Question in forum Ask a Question (no registration!)Replies: 1Last Post: 08-29-2016, 08:35 PM
- By VirtuaTyKing in forum VR News & DiscussionReplies: 1Last Post: 08-29-2016, 08:30 AM
LINK TO POST COPIED TO CLIPBOARD