Friday, December 8, 2023

Virtual Reality, Animatronics Stand Out at 2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo

Interactive, life-like attractions drew attention at the largest IAAPA gathering yet

by Rona Gindin

I’ve lived in Orlando for 21 years and written about the destination’s travel highlights all that time. I’m at the media openings of new water parks, theme park rides and a bevy of other attractions. I spend my days seeking out high-tech, all-natural, educational, family friendly and otherwise-noteworthy guest experiences to share with my readers.

In other words, I’m a journalist who knows the themed entertainment industry from the travel and visitor side. Now, my work with InPark Magazine has opened a door into a new dimension of the business – I’ve been getting a crash course in how these attractions are conceived and created.

PHOTO courtesy IAAPA

In November 2017 I attended my first International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo, which takes place every year in Orlando. The parent organization, IAAPA, is an international organization and also holds annual expos in Asia and Europe, and recently relocated its headquarters from Alexandria, VA to Orlando .

Spending time at IAAPA Orlando gave me a chance to get acquainted with the companies and people who design, build, develop, operate and maintain parks and attractions around the world. My newfound perspective enables me to go deeper into the story behind launching those attractions where I regularly attend media relations events. Thanks to this exposure, I’ll be able to share more meaningful information and insights with my consumer readers, and bring my travel writer’s viewpoint to enhance my industry coverage – in addition to the excitement of getting to know new people and new companies, many of them right here in Orlando, conveniently located to serve their clientele.

For four days, I walked the mammoth, IAAPA trade show floor, peering into the eyes of lifelike robots to see if they might be human, climbing into virtual-reality ride cabins to try yet another version of this type of experience, talking one-on-one with innovators about the why and how of their newest products and services, and racing from press conference to press conference to hear executives talk about hardware and software, ride vehicles, projectors, wave pools, looping coasters and much, much more. Having this backstage – so to speak – experience has added a level of understanding to my existing fund of knowledge and experience from the consumer side. I now have a broader perspective of the elements that go into rides, shows and theme and water parks.

PHOTO courtesy IAAPA

This year’s IAAPA Expo was the largest ever. In fact, attendance was up 12 percent over the year before. More than 25,300 buyers traveled from around the globe to walk the 576,000-plus-square-feet of displays at Orlando, Florida’s Orange County Convention Center, where 1,114 companies displayed their newest offerings.

Orlando was a fitting home for the 2017 mega-gathering, in part because IAAPA recently moved its headquarters there. In fact, the association broke ground on what will be its new headquarters building during the trade show virtually, on stage during the welcome session (PHOTO top of page, courtesy IAAPA).

The Orlando market, with eight theme parks and six highly themed water parks in or near the core plus a growing array of smaller attractions, is filled with cutting-edge offerings, making it an ideal home for IAAPA and for its largest annual gathering. The most notable Orlando area additions in 2017 were Disney World’s newest headliner, the Flight of Passage virtual reality ride within Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar land, and Volcano Bay, Universal Orlando’s state-of-the-art water park, where technology gives guests two advantages: no lines for rides, and no need to carry rafts or tubes up stairs.

On the trade show floor, vendors showed off virtual technology products of all scales, from single self-contained rides to the types of sophisticated technology needed for highly immersive themed experiences on a grander scale. Separately, robotics manufacturers displayed animatronics that look realistic, with human-like skin, and smooth head, neck and hand movements. Other highlights included lighting technology that projects detailed images onto flat and non-flat surfaces; ride technology that mimics off-road adventures; and interactive attractions that include elements beyond the ride itself, inviting guests to continue their involvement within the theme park.

Here is a selection of noteworthy products from my explorations at IAAPA Orlando 2017. Click on the links to access photo reports from the trade show floor.

Double the Fun

Skyline Attractions, LLC, introduced the Skywarp, on which two trains of 16 passengers travel an 8-shaped double loop, passing the other train repeatedly. The first Skywarp will debut in Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Northern California in spring 2018. It will have the name HARLEY QUINN Crazy Coaster, after a DC Entertainment super-villain.

IAE17 NEWS: Skyline Attractions Unveils HARLEY QUINN Crazy Coaster at IAE 2017

Multidimensional Projections

Christie displayed its new Mystique projection system, with multiple projectors. Rugged surfaces, as well as flat ones, can show high-resolution moving pictures. That allows attraction operators to use buildings, domes, cars, mannequins and sports-venue surfaces as screens or projection mapping surfaces.

IAE17 NEWS: Christie Digital Systems Simplifies Multi-Projector Imaging

VR Three-Pack

The Q-Ride is an all-in-one virtual reality package introduced by Brogent Technologies Inc. Seat movements coincide with the script, whether the theme is a hot air balloon expedition, a shooting game or an underwater experience. The headpieces are a single item with both speakers and glasses attached, which lowers loading time for the 12-seat ride.

IAE17 NEWS: Brogent Debuts Virtual Reality Ride with Three Themes

Living History

Historical figures will seemingly come to life via Living Faces of History, a new line of animatronics by Garner Holt Productions, Inc. The figures, such as one of Abraham Lincoln, become lifelike thanks to 46 motions, complemented by a neck that functions seven distinct ways. A silicon skin makes the faces softer and more pliant than past materials did. The characters run on electricity, so they are portable and self-contained.

IAE17 NEWS: New Garner Holt Animatronics Feature Lifelike Movements

When a Game Goes Non-Linear

Wander®, Alterface’s newest game, is non-linear. Every game begins in a designated hub but then moves out into the larger attraction or park. Participants return to the hub for new missions after completing each one. Guest information, stored on a wand used by a single person or a team, guides the experience.

IAE17 NEWS: Alterface Introduces WANDER, a Non-linear Game

Rejuvenating a Classic

S&S Worldwide is creating an updated version of its Steeplechase Coaster, which itself was created in 1976 by Arrow Dynamics, now owned by S&S. The original was modeled after a classic equestrian-themed attraction introduced in 1896 at Brooklyn’s Steeplechase Park. After having engineers study an extant version at the UK’s Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the S&S team improved the ride. It will now go in a Möbius loop, and have a bar restraint that lowers the height requirement from 55 inches to 42 inches. In addition to horses, the Steeplechase Coaster can now be adapted to feature dragons, raptors or motorcycles.

IAE17 NEWS: S&S Unveils New Version of Steeplechase Coaster at IAAPA Attractions Expo

Upgrading Video Games

Two video game franchises, Rabbids and Assassin’s Creed, will soon be available in virtual reality versions. The experiences will be modular and small enough to fit 10-square-meter (108-square-foot) spaces. Triotech and Ubisoft are collaborating on the projects, and Asterion VR is providing technology.

IAE17 NEWS: Triotech and Ubisoft Join Forces to Create Virtual Reality Experiences

Flying High

Dynamic Attractions unveiled a flying theater product that is available in fully themed and customizable formats. Essentially, the Dynamic Flightcycle allows riders to lean forward on a motorcycle-like vehicle in front of a concave screen. They will feel as if they’re soaring through the sky. Wind, mist and scent can be added to the ride, which can fit into small spaces due to a low ceiling requirement. A Dragon Rider version has a feudal storyline in which the cycles are dragons and kingdoms are dueling. Scenery, media, projection, a screen and even a preshow are part of the package. Dynamic Attractions also introduced a ride that mimics an off-road experience.

IAE17 NEWS: Dynamic Attractions Introduces Two New Products at IAAPA Attractions Expo

Slippery Slopes

Three new waterslide offerings have expanded the Proslide Technology Inc. portfolio. RocketBLAST®, a modified version of the ProSlide HydroMAGNETIC ROCKET®, is a hydro coaster that uses water propulsion and turbine technology to provide speed going up and down.

FlyingSAUCER® elements, round and tilted, can be added to RocketBLAST®, inserted between water-slide water coaster flumes, allowing guests to traverse turns at up to 30 feet per second. Separately, ProSlide introduced the Double TornadoWAVE™ in 2017, an extension of its 6-year-old wall insert. The new version creates a dedicated ride path for 4- and 6-person rafts into a near vertical-zero-gravity moment.

IAE17 NEWS: Proslide Offers Three New Waterslide Options

SeaWorld Sensations

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment announced several additions and enhancements to its parks around the world. Among them are the following:

Infinity Falls, a river rapids attraction opening at the Orlando park this summer, will have a rainforest theme and a 40-foot vertical drop. Passengers will ride on an 8-seat raft resembling those found on real white-water rafting expeditions. As part of the new “Park to Planet” initiative, the ride will have a water conservation theme and end with educational animal encounters.

Electric Eel, a 150-foot-tall roller coaster, will debut in San Diego this summer. It will include an educational component about moray eels.

Oscar’s Wacky TaxiTM, a wooden roller coaster, will open at the Pennsylvania Sesame Place in in spring 2018.

The San Antonio and San Diego parks will be home to new Sesame Street parades, and the Orlando Park will gain a Sesame Street land in the future.

Battle For Eire™—Action VR Ride will join the line-up at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. It will be a motion-based simulator with a 360-degree virtual reality headset.

SeaWorld will announce the location of a second Sesame Place theme park, modeled on the original in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

IAE17 NEWS: SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Discusses 2018 Attractions at IAAPA Attractions Expo

IAAPA Hall of Fame Awards Announced

Three sets of worldwide industry innovators received the IAAPA Hall of Fame Awards during the 2017 IAAPA convention. Those so honored were Writer and Park Founder Philippe de Villiers of Puy du Fou, Les Epesses, France; philanthropists and industry ambassadors Henri and Pamela Landwirth of Give Kids The World, Kissimmee, Florida, United States; and songwriter Richard M. Sherman of California, United States.

InPark is pleased to welcome new contributor Rona Gindin ([email protected]), who writes about tourism, business, travel, restaurant and lifestyle issues. Her work has appeared in Zagat,, Brides, Parenting, Endless Vacation and other publications and websites.


Rona Gindin
Rona Gindin
InPark is pleased to welcome Rona Gindin ([email protected]), who joined our community of contributors in November 2017. Rona writes about tourism, business, travel, restaurant and lifestyle issues. Her work has appeared in Zagat,, Brides, Parenting, Endless Vacation and other publications and websites.

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