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Virtual Reality is Coming to Real-Life Rollercoasters

Soar with Superman or pilot an alien-fighting jet

smithsonian.com

With more than 600 hair-raising rollercoasters to its name, the United States leads the world in coaster fun. For “ride enthusiasts,” as some coaster aficionados call themselves, old-fashioned steel and wood coasters can be just as enticing as their high-tech cousins. But virtual reality might sway even the most traditional coaster fan. A partnership with Samsung and Six Flags is bringing cutting-edge virtual reality technology to amusement parks in a bid to make coasters even more thrilling.

The concept is fairly simple: Instead of looking at the real-life dips and dives of the coaster around them, riders wear a virtual reality headset that immerses them in a 360-degree world that’s attenuated to the coaster’s every twist and turn.

In a release, Six Flags writes that gyros, accelerometers and proximity sensors will help “synchronize all of the action.” The first virtual reality coasters will open at Six Flags parks later this month. An FAQ about the attractions details that wearing the Samsung Gear Headsets is not mandatory for any of the rides, and that children 12 and younger actually will not be able to use the virtual reality headsets, in accordance to the manufacturer's guidelines.

So what do coaster aficionados think of the rides? The hosts of CoasterRadio.com, a popular theme park podcast, seem excited but skeptical. They point out logistics concerns that could force Six Flags to hire more attendants for each coasters to handle the work of orienting riders to the headsets and cleaning them once the ride is over. And they point out that the coasters that will get the virtual reality experience aren't Six Flags' best, speculating that the technology could be just a move to breathe new life into fading coasters. 

Rollercoasters are just the the tip of the virtual iceberg these days—in the past few years, virtual reality has gained some very real steam. Now, people with virtual reality headsets can do everything from watch March Madness games to educate themselves about slaughterhouses.

Boosters of the technology say that virtual reality has the potential not just to surround people with virtual worlds, but to change how they think of the real world, too. But others counter that the technology is just too pricey to catch on. Will virtual reality ever hit big in the mass market? Only time will tell—but in the meantime, you can get the experience, complete with a roller coaster ride, for the mere price of amusement park admission.

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