From VR caves to augmented roller coaster reality

VRcoasterThe tradeshow floor of the Euro Attractions Show, EAS 2015, that took place in Gothenburg 6-8 October, featured many examples of how the 3D and Virtual Reality techniques have developed. Most easily visible were the large number of fast cars and shooting attractions. Gaming, weather forecasts and movies remain among the uses that push the requirements for computing capacity. The incredible increase in computing power, is illustrated e.g. in the TOP500 list of the world’s fastest computers. This development makes possible better and better calculations, e.g. for roller coasters, but also enables completely new applications, where creativity combines advanced technologies from very different fields, such as the VR coaster where Augmented Reality meets real roller coasters.

Supercomputing ‘95 and early days of VR

sc95My first encounter with virtual reality was during the conference Supercomputing 1995, in San Diego. The large trade show floor featured computers, research projects, hardware, software, literature and much more. I recall visiting three VR caves and two of them showed a visualization of tires burning in a chimney, which illustrated not only the impressive immersive technology, but also that the developing of programs to make use of the possibilities was enormously timeconsuming.

Since then, I have visited many more caves, e.g. “traveling” in Umeå in a wheelchair and discovered the difficulties of posting a letter in a mailbox, “being” in the space stations, experiencing both the confined areas and the space stretching further and further. I have seen a colleague give a lecture in 3D on curved space in relativity (in 2010) and augmented reality applications for science education.

When Liseberg opened the 3D cinema Maxxima, in 2001, the technology was still relative rare – although one of the movies showed a young russian boy coming from to New York in the early 1900s(?) in search of his family, with a 3D viewer and a box of 3D photos as his only possession and clue.

Virtual Rollercoaster

During a morning session, Innovative Technology Showcase, during the EAS15, I listened to a presentation about the VR Coaster, from MackMedia, showing how riders in a roller coaster would wear glasses giving them a completely different experience of the ride, that could be made into a story.

My first thought was that it seemed like an awfully expensive way to make a simulator, by having to build a roller coaster instead of moving seats (although I accepted that the synchronization between visual and physical impressions would reduce the risk of motion sickness). The new roller coaster Helix at Liseberg gives spectacular visual experience through the natural surrounding, without any need for add-ons. Possibly, I could imagine that it could be worth it for stand-alone roller coasters.

And then, I had a chance to try it in the Mack booth (just standing on the floor). Clearly, the 3D interactivity has come a long way since the tires burning in chimneys. I experienced how the roller coaster track disappeared, and how I was being saved by a giant bird, flying around in an imagined landscape. I could imagine the combination with a real experience of the forces related to the acceleration as your body moves around a real roller coaster, whereas a simulator chair can only cheat your brain by changing the direction of your body in relation to the force of gravity, but it is still only giving 1G, apart from small vibrations.)

A discussion with prof. Thomas Wagner after the visual experience revealed more possibilities: E.g. it is possible to make drops look larger than they are IRL.The physicist in me notes that this would, in principle, imply a higher acceleration of gravity, since you would be limited by the time for the drop in the real coaster you are traveling in (although it is obviously a significant improvement over the 1G experience in a simulator chair). We also discussed how riders familiar with the roller coaster would try to reconcile the virtual visual experience with their position in the real world. He told me that even he found it difficult to make that connection. This makes it possible to reuse a small coster 2-3 times around with different parts of the story.

Interactivity and Processing Capacity

For a casual visitor walking around the EAS15, the main impression was probably that interactivity was shooting and car chases. For me, personally, with a background in scientific computing, I am more interested in the technology behind the screens, and what this rapidly developing technology enables. Anders Ynnerman, who also took part in Supercomputing ‘95, representing the shortlived Swedish council for high-performance computing (HPDR), is now exploring and developing these possibilities. I have heard him talk about his work as professor of scientific visualization and director of the Visualisation Center in Norrköping, about  applications from interactive medical imaging and a virtual autopsy table, to live 3D views for aircraft control towers, illumination of virtual IKEA furniture,  visualisations of climate change impact and much more.

The TOP500 list presented at SC95 included computers from 2.5 GFLOPS to 170 GFlops, whereas the June 2015 list includes computer systems performing between 135TFlops and 34 PFlops. (1 FLOP =1 Floating point operation per second). (And in 1975, I was running programs from punch cards at the IBM360 university mainframe, with 1MB total storage capacity, and requiring 7microseconds for a multiplication.) The continued exponential increase in performance keeps enabling new possibilities for creativity.

For me, the VR coaster was the most surprising technological development shown during EAS2015. What interactive developments will be possible during the years to come?

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2 thoughts on “From VR caves to augmented roller coaster reality

  1. Pingback: Surely, you don’t expect this to be science? | Research, Rabbits and Roller Coasters

  2. Pingback: Roller coaster realities | Research, Rabbits and Roller Coasters

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