How theme parks and museums are adopting VR and AR
Contributors: Keith Loria, Hilary McVicker, Randy White
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) rides and attractions are being rapidly adopted at theme parks, museums and other popular visitor attractions, with a lot of new activity just in the past year.
VR goes for a ride
VR Coaster GmbH & Co KG was instrumental in producing the world’s first virtual reality experience on a roller coaster. The Alpenexpress VR-Ride opened at Europa-Park in Rust, Germany in 2015. Passengers put on VR headsets as they board the Mackbuilt coaster. The wraparound 360-degree visuals delivered via the headset are synchronized with the movement of the ride. In this instance, the animated, virtual world is based on a 4D show called “The Mystery of Castle Balthasar,” in which passengers ride on the back of a dragon through a fantasy environment.
Europa-Park’s pioneering Alpenexpress VR-Ride proved the concept, and its success has quickly led to more, again with the involvement of VR Coaster GmbH. Multiple Six Flags parks have introduced VR coasters, such as The New Revolution Virtual Reality Coaster, which opened this season at Six Flags Saint Louis, in partnership with Samsung Electronics America and using Oculus headgear. The Virtual Reality Coasters powered by Samsung Gear VR can be found at nine Six Flags locations across the U.S. These pioneering virtual reality roller coasters tie the VR experience to the hard ride via specially formatted media that plays on Samsung Gear VR headsets, synched to the ride by VR Coaster GmbH technology.
[quote]We live in a digital world, people now desire to be part of the art, and VR is a prime way to offer people a truly engaging experience and allow them to appreciate art in new ways.”[/quote]
Tom Harding, Director, Immersive Products & Virtual Reality, Samsung Electronics America Inc. said, “It offers a cutting-edge, innovative way to ride roller coasters – and without the nausea some might expect.”
Thomas Wagner, Managing Partner, VR Coaster GmbH said, “Extending roller coasters with VR is not only giving older coasters a renaissance, but it also creates a totally new kind of attraction. It’s actually the very first setup that allows for real forces, real drops and zero gravity (or air-time) in a simulation ride. The trick is to have a precise, automated synchronization between the real ride and the virtual ride. Then you can do almost anything. You can virtually extend the size of the coaster, remove the rails, increase heights and speeds and more. By the end of 2016, we will have more than 20 theme parks worldwide equipped with our system. We are also working on projects with slowly moving dark rides and so called ‘people movers,’ like trains.”
The technology, said Wagner, is “very flexible and robust. As our hardware is wireless, the headsets don’t need any cables, and you also don’t need to attach any CG hardware or computers onto the train. We only add our sensor system and our black box with a micro controller to the train, and that system wirelessly transmits the information to the headsets. This way, everybody can still make a choice whether to experience the ride with or without VR. We’ve not only been the first team to develop this, but we’ve also filed a patent for the process of enabling a coaster to synchronize with a mobile VR headset, which gives us kind of a head start in this industry.”
Samsung has gained product positioning from the Six Flags collaboration, as the Gear VR package is designed for home entertainment as well. “The latest version of the Samsung Gear was designed to support the move of VR into the mainstream,” said Harding. “It’s 19 percent lighter and more comfortable than other VR products. It is also the first low persistence VR experience powered by a smartphone. This is hugely important as it reduces the motion lag when turning your head and provides for a premium VR experience when compared to other mobile VR. Gear VR has multiple sensors (accelerator, gyrometer) working together with the display to provide 360 degrees of content that moves as naturally as you move your head.”
AR time machine
Several museums are getting into the act as well. For example, Epson Moverio smart eyewear is being used in several venues in Italy. Brescia Museums in Brescia, Italy has employed the technology to provide 3D digital reconstructions of archaeological ruins. The Interactive Film Museum in Milan is using it to help open up access to its extensive archives. At the leaning tower of Pisa, the glasses furnish a virtual look back into history.
“AR is a technology with enormous potential in the field of cultural heritage,” said Eric Mizufuka, product manager, Epson Moverio Smart Eyewear. “There is high demand. Working closely with the Brescia Museums and a software developer, we created a solution that enables visitors to stop at key points along a path in Northern Italy. Wearing their smart glasses, they can view transparent, 3D digital reconstructions overlaid on top of the ruins showing how the structures looked 2,000 years ago. It’s an AR time machine.”
The company has its eye on theme park markets as well as museums and believes AR will outpace VR in time. “Most well-funded venues are either testing AR/VR content or actually implementing experiences for visitors, initially in VR,” said Mizufuka. “Epson’s Moverio AR glasses are currently undergoing pilots at two major attractions and we are collaborating with other key players in the industry as well. With its enclosed visual system, VR experiences are easier to create than AR at the moment, but we believe AR will eventually dominate because of its mobility and the interaction that’s possible with real-world environments.”
Disney, Dali & the future
Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination was an exhibitionco-organized by The Walt Disney Family Museum in cooperation with The Dali Museum, the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in Figueres, Spain, and The Walt Disney Studios. It premiered at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, where it ran July 2015-Jan 2016, and then ran at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL Jan-June 2016.
The Dali Museum added a VR experience entitled “Dreams of Dali” that allowed visitors to enter and explore the multimedia exhibition within a 360-degree virtual world, and that remains available for home users. Kathy Grief, Marketing Director, Dalí Museum said, “There are lots of innovative experiences coming out of museums around the world so it’s an exciting time to be part of this industry. I think we’re all embracing the notion that people want more – there’s no doubt they want to see the original works and that is certainly their main drive for visiting and our main mission, but consumer mindset is changing. We live in a digital world, people now desire to be part of the art, and VR is a prime way to offer people a truly engaging experience and allow them to appreciate art in new ways.”
“The Walt Disney Family Museum has an on-going commitment to engage visitors in innovative ways that are reflective of Walt’s visionary approach to interactive environments,” said Kirsten Komoroske, Executive Director of The Walt Disney Family Museum.
“VR will grow and eventually convert into true augmented/mixed reality,” said Wagner. “I believe the next big thing is to use devices like the Microsoft Hololens and to render objects directly into your field of view. But the industry has discovered that VR opens up a lot of opportunities to create amazing worlds that wouldn’t be possible in real world theming for a fraction of the usual budget. Not only for rides, but also for walk-through mazes and stationary VR experiences.” • • •
Pokémon GO: a watershed moment
by Randy White
In less than two weeks following its release Pokémon GO had become the rage for millions of people throughout the world who are roaming around gazing into their smartphone screens with a goal to capture 151 Pokémon. It’s not the first use of augmented reality (actually mixed reality), but it’s the first to gain mass mainstream adoption. Experts consider Pokémon GO a moonshot that establishes augmented reality for many future consumer applications.
Pokemon GO screenshots courtesy Niantic Labs
In a few years when Magic Leap, Hololens and other AR companies allow us to look thru glasses instead of at screens to mix digitally created and real world experiences and to connect with other people, we’ll be looking back at Pokémon Go as a really crude form of augmented reality.
What Pokémon GO has done is take video game play off of the sofa and out into the real world. In a sense, the entire world has now become a giant 3D screen that you are physically in. And although other video games can be digitally social, Pokémon GO is bringing strangers physically together in the real world at its Gym locations. Pokémon GO is a true defining chapter in the history of technology. It is a watershed moment as a new form of interactive entertainment, and a no- or very low-cost one at that (to the consumer). Out-of-home entertainment is no longer confined to a specific building, a piece of real estate where you have to pay a considerable price to enjoy it.
Pokémon GO and future applications of augmented and mixed reality are sure to add to the already digital disruption we are seeing to existing out-of-home entertainment options. And that disruption is sure to accelerate if the growing investment in augmented and virtual reality is any indication. In the first quarter of 2016, over $1.0 billion dollars was invested in AR and VR companies, 60% more than all the money invested in those technologies during the whole of 2015. • • •
Randy White is the CEO of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group, a multi-disciplinary firm that specializes in feasibility, concept and brand development, design, production and consulting for entertainment and eatertainment venues. Over the past 27 years the company has worked for over 500 clients in 33 countries and won 16 first-place design awards. The company publishes an occasional Leisure eNewsletter and Tweets (@whitehutchinson) and Randy blogs. Randy is also a founder, co-Regent and presenter at Foundations Entertainment University, now in its 14th year. Randy can be reached at 816.931-1040, ext. 100 or via the company’s website at www.whitehutchinson.com.
VR beyond the headsets
by Hilary McVicker, Communicatrix, The Elumenati
It’s an exciting time to be in the field of immersion.
The high levels of interest and investment in virtual reality technologies mean that new applications are coming up across a wide range of industries.
The Elumenati’s founders were working in VR in the 1990s, and bring decades of experience to designing immersive environments that are both elegant and effective. Our domes and panoramas provide an excellent complement to head-mounted displays (HMD).
A phrase we hear often is “It’s VR without the headset!” Inside our domes and panoramas, groups can explore spherical content together. Whether it’s a family experiencing a themed entertainment ride or a design team previewing an architectural model, the experience is social and collaborative. Immersive environments are accessible to audiences of all ages, with none of the physical limitations that may arise with HMDs. We’re also hearing that our panoramas are an critical part of the production pipeline for our clients who are creating VR content, as the creative team can make aesthetic and practical decisions together in the immersive space.
It’s always been our goal to innovate, finding new ways to leverage immersive technologies for impactful experiences. We’re actively seeking opportunities to collaborate with partners to grow and expand the possibilities of working in the VR medium – and we’re looking forward to what comes next. • • •
Augmented Reality enters theme parks
The virtual realm of augmented reality collides with the tangible, traditional guest visit to Cedar Point with the debut of “The Battle for Cedar Point,” an interactive, competitive gaming experience inside the new Cedar Point mobile app.
Developed by UK-based, sensory experience design experts Holovis, in partnership with Cedar Point, the free game allows guests to compete against each other in a fun new way as they walk through the park, wait for their favorite ride or sit down to enjoy a meal.
Guests who choose to play The Battle for Cedar Point will first join one of five “clans” on the day of their visit – Valravn, GateKeeper, Millennium Force, Top Thrill Dragster or Maverick. Each clan is signified by its own unique character avatar, along with a custom battle shield.
They will then “battle” against other guests inside the park that day as they earn points by scanning select ride signs, t-shirts and game symbols located throughout the park.
Once scanned, these items will come to life on the guest’s mobile device, enabling them to see characters, animated signs and achievement symbols as they appear to co-exist with the real world. They can then share these interactive experiences on social media, encouraging others to join their clan.
Amy Steele, VP of Development at Holovis said, “There’s something exhilarating about watching the real world come to life with a layer of AR magic. Augmented reality is not a particularly new technology, but it still remains new to most people, and it is a really unique and powerful way to extend the experience of an attraction into queue lines, attraction exteriors, and even into the guest’s own home.”
The victor of the day’s crusade is revealed nightly at the park’s Luminosity show, a multi-sensory musical experience featuring talented aerialists, live singers and dancers, mesmerizing pyrotechnics and dramatic visual elements. The Battle for Cedar Point resets each operating day.
“Because of the real-time and updatable nature of these apps, AR apps can benefit a park by driving traffic to where you want your guests to be, when you want them to be there. It can benefit the whole park eco system by, for example, driving traffic to an underperforming food and beverage area as a ‘quest’ in the AR game, or by driving repeat visitors back to the park with new in-app downloads and AR experiences that can only be experienced in a ride’s queue line,” said Steele. • • •