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Coaster Immersion Technology

01/31/15 at 03:43pm in Coaster Immersion Technology
Post: #1
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[Concept Summary]

While, I present the concept herein, I would like to note that I am entirely pleased with the experiences I received at BGW since my first visit in 1975. Over the past years, whether riding coasters (including the much missed BBW) and attending Howl-O-Scream, my children and I always rewarded with memories during each and every visit to the park.  With that in mind, I would like to share a concept that I feel would be a benefit to BGW and riders alike.

Imagine reinventing a coaster continuously - with the only limiting factor being the human imagination.  In essence - the ultimate ride experience.  In addition to the standard ride associated with any coaster, providing additional ride experiences on the same physical ride would be a benefit to the riders and BGW.  While I have nothing by high marks for all the coasters I have ridden and continue to ride, a new and improved method can coexist with the original ride - expanding the experience if chosen by the user.

This concept, originally conceived in 1990, combines 3D-computer generated imagery, sound, and other sensory factors with the physical forces that a rider experiences on a coaster.  The result would provide the ultimate ride experience to even the most seasoned coaster enthusiast.  For example, imagine combining the view from the cockpit of a fighter jet chasing another aircraft, flying through space,
falling off the edge of a the Grand Canyon only to be swooped up the last second by someone or some "thing", or any other number of situations.

The concept involves two different designs implementations - each depending on the train configuration.  Both concept allow the rider to become immersed in an unlimited number of situations.

The first implementation is the personal viewing device (PVD), which is similar to the 3D glasses that have become prevalent in today's entertainment industry.  These lightweight devices could be combined with individual speaker systems located behind the rider, providing an excellent immersion experience as the rider feels the real-world forces and wind.

The second option is the video display system (VDS), that enables the images to project onto a screen which also acts as an enclosure for the individual cars on the train.  Small, portable, high-definition projectors device would produce a wraparound viewing experience supplemented by a sound system, allowing the rider to enjoy complete immersion in whatever scenario is selected.

[Background]

This concept was conceived in the 1980's and the concept was more fully developed in 1990. At that time, I had the pleasure of meeting PTC's then president at its facility near Philadelphia to discuss the design feasibility.  There, we discussed the available voltages to power the system both in the station and on the track, as well as train position information which was to be relayed to the system.
This project was also presented in confidence to our BGW VIP tour guide in hopes that some interest could be generated at BGW for the concept.  However, to date, I've have no luck in moving the concept forward.

Despite a background in computers and electronics, and experience in design of flight control and guidance software for jet aircraft, I lack business experience and funding to move beyond the concept phase.  So, after all these years, I thought it best to circulate the idea publicly instead of seeing a corporation announce such a concept as "new".  I've seen the trend in ride technology headed in this direction in the last few years with attractions other immersion systems - but none coupling the coaster experience with technology.  But the truth be told, it was conceived many, many years ago at BGW while riding the Loch Ness Monster.

The initial concept was formed after I was fortunate enough to interview Ron Toomer in 1981 and discuss the engineering behind his legendary beast, and also privileged to obtain a personal tour of its workings by BGW's then Ops Manager Steve Carr.  During the time immediately following this, I started thinking about CRT and, thereafter, LCD technology as a viewing mechanism.  Today, low cost, light-weight viewing devices finally allow this concept to be implemented in a cost effective manner.

I've spend many hours in high-end flight simulators relied on by the FAA to train pilots.  From my aviation background I can verify that all airline pilots rely on the reality they experience when training in a simulator.  The immersion is so realistic that you believe that you are actually in an aircraft making an approach in specific weather conditions.  The difference between these 6-axis Level D flight simulators and a coaster is: In the coaster you are dropping 115-205 feet or pulling +3gs, whereas in a flight simulator you are only moving a small distance and relying on the illusion to provide the experience.  

As realistic as the motion simulator is, this concept would go beyond that experience.  The sensory input of high-definition video combined with the forces experienced in coaster rider would provide and experience beyond anything available today.  NASA understands the concept, as they have built one of the largest simulators.  However, their Vertical Motion Simulator only moves 60 feet vertically.  Imaging the effects of a 205' drop combined with visual and audible sensory input.

With this background, I now explain the specific implementation, below.

[Implementation]

As discussed above, the system is implemented in one of two methods: 1) The PVD method or 2) the VDS method.  The scenario is loaded into the individual computer systems via a connection in the station.  Depending on the design and need to save cost, this could be done via a protected wireless interface, controlled by maintenance or the operator during ride time.  If the computer system has enough storage (the prevailing trend today), there would be no need during ride operation to load the scenario.  It would simply be a decision as to which scenario is used for that specific ride prior to the train departing the station.

As the train moves along the track, sensors in the computer determine the location of the train so that the video is sync'd properly with the real-world movements of the train and the resulting forces experienced by the rider.  Originally, the track and train would required optical sensors to track the location.  Today, the location is easily determined by wireless sensor technology, that is reliable, cost-effective and can provide resolution down to inches if needed.

The software in each computer simply displays the synchronized video depending on where the train is on the track.  Speeding up or slowing down the framerate to match the video and train location is easily achieved and would be imperceptible to the rider, with framerates between 20-30 frames per second providing a fluid yet flexible viewing experience.  Similarly, the sound would also be
synchronized.

The PVD would likely be wireless with an elastic headstrap and preferably designed to absorb shock from inadvertent dropping.  Ideally, the PVD would be attached to the car with an elastic cable and have a storage location to hang up the the device prior to exiting the car.

The VDS has no risks associated with dropping or mounting, as it is part of the individual cars on the train. An enclosure with a white screen surface on its interior simply provides a private surround-type view of the video through either a lens system of the use of dual/tri projector system.

Today, many projectors are available - some in very small physical packages for portable use anywhere.  These would be very efficient as the key element driving the VDS.

An important part of this concepts implementation is allowing the rider to determine if they wish to use the PVD or VDS.  With a car outfitted with a VDS, the rider simply would leave the PVD is its mounting (e.g. magnetic retention of the PVD so that it remains in its storage location - perhaps affixed against the front portion of the seat or other easily accessible yet unobtrusive location).  Because
of the small lightweight devices available, there should be no risk factors that cannot be overcome through proper design.  The PVD should present no more of a risk than allowing persons to board with metal frame eyeglasses which have no retention mechanism in the event they become dislodged.

With the VDS implementation, the trains could alternate between one train having the VDS enclosure and the other a traditional train. Or, using today's technology, the enclosures could be designed with electronically darkening material selected by the rider.  With this method, one can choose to be immersed with the video or ride as originally designed.  Even the wind can still flow over the rider through
the use of air vents/guides on the enclosure.

The costs after installation, other than routine maintenance, would be primarily associated with generating new scenarios thought the use of computer generated and filmed footage edited for use in the system.  This task, while not trivial, is seen everyday on TV and the Internet.  There are many different software systems that can accomplish this task.

All-in-all, this concept presents a method whereby BGW can reinvent and provide new experiences for a fraction of the cost associated with adding new rides to the park.  The concept, if implemented, would allow the part to, in essence, "expand" without the need to find space and site-plan.  Further, the costs to design and build new coasters (while always welcome) can be saved for large long-term future
coasters like Griffin, while still being able implement this lower cost alternative on one or more of its existing coasters.

[Challenges]

A) Throughput/Time - There would be a slight increase in load time if the VDS system is chosen, due to opening/closing of the enclosure/screen.  Or, fitting/adjusting a PVD.

B) Maintenance:
1) Increased maintenance costs/tasks associated with PVD - This can be offset by bulk supply of viewing devices (prices dropping continually as supply increases)
2) Increased maintenance costs/tasks associated with VDS - Enclosure mechanism maintenance needs to designed so as to require minimal maintenance and low-cost parts for quick and easy repair.  The projector costs can be offset by bulk supply.  The display screen costs would be relatively minimal.

[Summary]

There are many differing opinions on the viability of a concept, whether or not such concept should be implemented, the costs versus benefits, as well as other important issues.  The concept stated herein is simply my concept and opinion.  I believe that the time has come to implement this system.  By combining today's low-cost, easy to implement technology with the effects of the real-world forces we experience on today's existing coaster, a new and amazing ride awaits.  And if this concept is implemented, I would certainly welcome the opportunity to be a part in bringing this concept to reality.
Thanks given by:  Zachary
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