The Future of Roller Coasters Has Arrived
Are you bored with the typical roller coasters that only offer blistering speeds and face-melting G-force? Well, you’re in luck. Six Flags has equipped a select few of their rides with a new feature that should excite thrillseekers like never before.
Once thought of as something out of science fiction, virtual reality is finally becoming mainstream and Six Flags is playing a major role. Working with Samsung and VR Coaster, Six Flags has added a virtual reality element to nine of their roller coasters across North America and lines are already starting to form. Riders will have their choice of boarding one of the six New Revolution Virtual Reality Coasters, which transport riders to a futuristic battle to save the planet from an alien invasion or, one of the three new Superman Virtual Reality Coasters that immerse riders in a comic-book world.
It all started in November of 2015 at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Executives from Six Flags met with VR Coaster, a Germany-based company that specializes in creative virtual worlds for roller coasters, in Orlando to demo a virtual reality roller coaster.
“It was a game changing experience for us,” says Sam Rhodes, director of design at Six Flags Entertainment. Rhodes had been wanting to use virtual reality on an attraction for years but the technology was never really there until recently. Thanks to the Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus, an untethered headset that utilizes a smartphone to display a 360-degree virtual world, Six Flags was finally able to bring a fully immersive experience to some of their most exciting roller coasters.
There’s more to the virtual reality magic than just the headset though. VR Coaster built something they call the “Black Box,” which is mounted on the roller coaster. During the ride, the box picks up the rotation of the wheels, location and other data and sends that information to each headset via Bluetooth. What’s truly remarkable, as Rhodes explains it, is that even though every guest is having the same experience, the timing of what the guest sees varies depending on where they’re sitting on the roller coaster.
“I was actually surprised how well the vision and dips of the ride all went together,” says Concetta Callahan, a reporter from San Antonio, Texas, who recently rode Superman Krypton Coaster in San Antonio. Callahan, who considers herself a roller coaster enthusiast, is not really a fan of 3-D rides but really enjoyed the overall experience and hopes to see more rides like this.
Even the American Coaster Enthusiasts, who can sometimes be the harshest critics, had positive remarks after going for a ride. “The overwhelming majority [of ACE members] said this is the best thing that’s happened to roller coasters,” says Rhodes.
When asked about any challenges Six Flags encountered, Rhodes explained they had to test the headsets to make sure they could withstand high speeds and perhaps just as important, the headsets had to be hygienic.
“We worked with doctors to see what surfaces and cleaning products to use,” says Rhodes. Six Flags used antimicrobial leather, which is the best surface you can use from a hygiene point of view, as well as the same cleaning solution dentists use. As Rhodes puts it, the headsets are “as clean as what a dentist would put in your mouth.”
As exciting as virtual reality roller coasters are, fans of the classic coasters shouldn’t worry about losing their favorite rides to technology quite yet. The addition of virtual reality is simply an enhancement to the existing experience and isn’t likely to replace the feeling of riding a coaster and seeing the entire park as you prepare for the thrill of that first big drop.