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Ride Research

Professor Wagner and one of his students ride Blue Fire at Europa- Park, equipped with VR headset and laptop

THE VR COASTER PROJECT When virtual reality meets ride reality

Walk the floor at this month’s IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando and you’re sure to find multiple “immersive” experiences marrying CGI media with a motion base to enrich the action on screen. But what if, instead of a simulator, you used a real ride – and a rollercoaster at that – to provide the movement? This

spring/summer Mack Rides did exactly that. Here

Professor Thomas Wagner, who led the experiments with the German manufacturer, tells us about the amazing discoveries made by him and his students at the University of Applied Sciences in Kaiserslautern.


In February of this year, I approached Mack Rides with the idea of extending the rollercoaster experience by wearing an Oculus Rift headset during the ride. I was wondering if it would be possible to replace – or augment – the real environment with a synchronised virtual ride. And, as I'm working as a professor in the department of Virtual Design at the University of Applied Sciences and already run my own games company, Gamesmold, I thought this could make for a great topic for this year’s virtual reality project. When we started preparing this project, myself and the 40+ students from Kaiserslautern had no idea if it was possible at all, or how it would feel to experience a rollercoaster ride with the added sensations provided by virtual reality. Neither did we know if the sensors of the Oculus Rift would work under the tough conditions of a rollercoaster ride. However, we were convinced that if it would work, we would surely make some amazing discoveries.

At Mack Rides, they also saw the potential and entered into a groundbreaking co-operation with me and my students, providing us with two rollercoasters at Europa-Park for research and testing, Blue Fire Megacoaster and Pegasus.

Our very first path animations were created based on CAD files and on-ride video footage. Each Oculus Rift seat was accompanied by an operator who could monitor synchronisation and, if needed, speed up or


slow down the virtual ride. These early rides served only as a test and a proof of concept. We then managed to track the position of each car automatically using an on-board sensor integrated into each car of Blue Fire. This system tracks position and speed of the wheels and was originally intended for controlling onboard audio and video recording. On 7 April, we performed our first Oculus Rift VR rides on a real rollercoaster, synchronised to the real track. Of course the test rides couldn’t be done while the park was open to normal visitors, but Europa-Park gave us some amazing after hours access. As soon as the park closed to the general public, we would head to Blue Fire, riding until night time. Then, after resting in the log cabins of the park’s camp resort, we'd get up early in the morning to try out Pegasus before the park opened again.


Of the two coasters that we were testing on, Blue Fire offers the most intense experience. After a short dark ride section, the ride moves outside, where the train is accelerated from 0 to 115 km/h in 2.5 seconds using linear induction motors. The launch propels the train over a 38m-high horseshoe turn that leads into a vertical loop of 32m. The next turn culminates in a mid- course brake run, followed by a twisted horseshoe roll. An airtime hill follows, and the ride ends with a


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