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Calling it the world’s first interactive coaster, passengers straddle the seats like a motorcycle and can control the speed of the cars by turning a throttle mounted on their handlebars.(Photo: Marc Wittkowski, Maurer)
Every November, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions gathers the industry’s movers and shakers (pun intended) for an expo that stuffs the cavernous Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
to overflowing. Virtually all of the designers, manufacturers, visionaries, and others who develop the technology, create the shows, craft the stories, and build the coasters are there.
The show floor includes full-size, operating rides. As enormous as it is, the convention center can’t contain all of the action; some of the exhibitors commandeer the parking lot.
5 billion worldwide and reports that this year’s expo, which attracted 39,000 attendees, shattered records. With 1,114 companies showcasing their latest concepts, it offered a unique opportunity to see not only what’s on the way to parks in the short-term, but also a peek at emerging developments and trends that may show up a few years down the road.
I wasn’t the only one wandering the expo’s aisles to ogle the latest, greatest themed entertainment innovations. Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea, in all of his bulging biceps glory, was seen kicking the tires at a few booths.
(Fortunately, he wasn’t kicking them too hard.) The Hulkster was on a mission to incorporate theme park-style pizzazz into Hogan’s Beach Shops, which sell wrestling memorabilia and beach accessories at locations in Orlando and Clearwater Beach, Fla.
” Bollea isn’t sure exactly what he is looking for, but, among other things, he hopes to create opportunities for his fans to relive moments from his storied career. Once he finds a winning formula, he plans to expand into markets in the USA and other countries.
There were no Hulkamania attractions being pitched at this year’s IAAPA Expo (although Bollea may have planted the se for future developments), but there were a host of exciting things on display. The following are some of the trends and cool concepts that emerged from the show floor.
Intended for water parks or other places where visitors could be in bathing suits, riders would get wet from the middle of their chest down. Employing principles of physics that I don’t understand, a clear canopy that is open on the bottom would keep water away from passengers‘ heads and upper torsos.
“We make it possible to drive underwater in an immersive environment—which is so bizarre—and be able to it,” says Jim Mayfield, president and CEO of Sub Sea Systems.
In addition to marine environments with sea life, he envisions parks using his ride system to simulate journeys through natural reefs, Mayan ruins, the Lost City of Atlantis, or even lunar landscapes.
Legoland California will also send visitors underwater to see real animals such as sharks and stingrays, but it will use 12-seat, fully enclosed submarines.
Lego City Deep Sea Adventure, which is set to open in the summer, will also include divers fashioned from Lego blocks.
Using a specially designed vehicle from Intamin Amusement Rides, the river raft ride will accommodate passengers as short as 42 inches and send them plummeting down a record-breaking 40-foot drop. The attraction, which is planned to open in 2018, will take riders on an adventure through a South American rainforest.
According to Rainer Maelzer, the CEO of Weigand Maelzer, a nine-year-old boy from Switzerland came up with the idea of the Slide Wheel. The German company is now building the wacky contraption and had a model of it at the expo.
Combining a Ferris wheel with a water slide, it sends four-passenger cloverleaf rafts into a rotating jumble of tubes. Riders slide back and forth and are propelled into the different tube sections before being deposited out the other side of the wheel.
Virtual reality remains really hot
The move to incorporate virtual reality into park rides began in earnest a couple of years ago with VR roller coasters. Legoland Florida will continue the trend with its announcement that it is transforming its Project X coaster into The Great Lego Race.
Set to open in the spring, riders will have the option of wearing VR headsets and could experience a virtual adventure that will sync with the physical elements of the coaster. The park offered a sneak preview of the VR media (minus the coaster ride) at the expo.
Among the companies jumping on that trend was Zamperla, which displayed its VR Box at the expo. It features eight suspended seats that are tethered above to a motion platform.
The VR Box simulated every rickety, rough moment of the old, wooden ride.
Working in conjunction with Falcon’s Creative Group, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced that it would be opening Battle for Eire this spring.
The park is repurposing its 55-seat motion simulator theater for the new attraction. Passengers wearing VR “fairy goggles” will go on a 360-degree adventure and explore a computer-animated, mythical Irish landscape.
The Taiwanese company, Brogent, debuted its Q-Ride at the expo. It includes 12 outward-facing seats arranged around a motion platform.
One scene, which involved a school of fish coalescing into a huge bait ball, was appropriately disorienting. The Q-Ride’s VR headsets have high-quality headphones built into them, and the sound was quite good.
Sound is a critical part of the sensory equation in making virtual reality convincingly real. For the DreamCraft VR attractions it is creating, Cavu Designwerks has developed proprietary binaural audio technology.
The company gave me a demonstration that blew me away. Using a single, relatively small cabinet of speakers placed on a table in front of me, I heard somebody whispering in my ear and other soundscapes with astonishing clarity as well as a sense of direction and place.
Flying theaters come down to earth
Since Disney California Adventure debuted Soarin’ Over California, ride designers have been busy developing their own takes on the flying theater concept. Several companies have created versions that simulate hang gliding above scenes without the enormous screen or huge theaters (nor the huge price tag they require) used for Disney’s Soarin’ rides.
Dynamic Attractions, a flying theaters pioneer, introduced the Dynamic Flightcycle at the IAAPA Expo. Using a ride vehicle that resembles the one Disney uses for the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction that recently opened at its Animal Kingdom park, it places passengers in a motorcycle-like position and angles them downward.
“When your sight line drops, it changes your perspective and makes you more aware of height,” says George Walker, the company’s senior vice president of creative development. “It creates a slightly more aggressive and thrilling experience without the need for a lot of space.
Using the MX4D motion seats it designed for conventional movie theaters, MediaMation developed the MX4D Flying EFX Theatre. Unlike Soarin’-style rides, which lift seats high into the air in front of domed screens, MediaMation’s seats remain anchored to the floor.
The company says that it can simulate flying in show buildings with ceilings as low as 16 feet.
Like roving motion base simulator rides such as Universal’s Spider-Man and Transformers attractions, Cavu Designwerks hopes to expand the flying theater concept by using suspended vehicles that move on a track through a series of scenes.
Its Power Glider would use electro-magnetic propulsion to convey the vehicles, and the scenes could include a combination of screened media and physical sets (like the ones in dark ride such as Pirates of the Caribbean).
Animatronics get more animated
Garner Holt Productions, which manufactures many of the characters used in Disney’s attractions and other parks (fun fact: it works with HBO’s Westworld to create some of the show’s AI figures), has developed what it calls “Living Faces of History.”
The next-gen animatronics incorporate as many as 46 servo actuators in the face and 7 in the neck.
They are capable of millions of combinations. The company had a Cockney character on display at the expo that demonstrated remarkable expressiveness and fluidity.
It could convey a variety of emotions such as wide-eyed wonder and immediately transition to disgust.
“We’re trying to push the limits,” says GHP’s president and founder, Garner Holt.
“We want to replicate the human face as closely as possible.”
Coasters never go out of style
While it doesn’t get more traditional than a wooden coaster, Oscar’s Wacky Taxi will feature the company’s innovative Timberliner trains. They include a steerable wheel system that can navigate through turns and mitigate the roughness that characterizes woodies.
SS Sansei Technologies has gone real old school with its reinterpretation of the Steeplechase Coaster. Mimicking a classic ride that operated at New York‘s Coney Island from 1908 to 1964, passengers board horse-like vehicles instead of conventional coaster cars and compete against one another on an undulating track that simulates a steeplechase obstacle race.
One of the most forward-thinking coaster manufacturers, Rocky Mountain Construction, displayed a section of the single-rail IBox track it developed and will be using for new rides opening in 2018 at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and California’s Great America. It also had a spiffy train on display from the wooden-steel hybrid Twisted Cyclone coaster set to launch in the spring at Six Flags Over Georgia.
A model of a new kind of coaster concept, which ride designer Skyline Attractions dubs “Skywarp,” was at the expo. It features a single, extra-long train with two sets of cars on a short, figure-eight track.
Calling it the world’s first interactive coaster, passengers straddle the seats like a motorcycle and can control the speed of the cars by turning a throttle mounted on their handlebars. There is even a turbo-boost button that riders can activate for a burst of acceleration.
Another old-school amusement park staple, the dark ride, got a new-age upgrade at the IAAPA Expo when Dynamic Attractions announced its All-Terrain Dark Ride. Using ultra-wideband positioning (which the company claims is based on military-grade technology), the trackless, autonomous, self-driving ride vehicles can embark on multiple paths through an environment.
“But it’s completely simulated. Here, if you want to feel what’s it like to go over rocks, build some rocks.
Then go over them.”
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