Classic Ride Gets VR Upgrade

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Classic Ride Gets VR Upgrade
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July 28, 2017

Cedar Point, an amusement park located in Sandusky, Ohio, is currently piloting a VR experience on Iron Dragon, one of its less-popular roller coasters.

Cedar Point says they chose Iron Dragon because it has "smooth transitions, without any unexpected jolts or turns.” Built in 1987, Iron Dragon is a family-friendly roller coaster that’s great for young riders who are having their first experience with bigger rides, and for older riders who can no longer handle the thrills of rides like Top Thrill Dragster, which launches riders 400 feet in the air at 120 mph. In short, VR might be the way to make Iron Dragon relevant again, without changing the actual ride.

'Iron Dragon: VR' is only available after 6:00p, and only on certain days throughout the summer. Cedar Point says they chose this “half and half” model to ensure a great guest experience for everyone.  Before 6:00p, when VR isn’t available, Iron Dragon operates two trains, and transitions are quick from one set of riders to the next, making the lines move pretty quickly. After 6:00p, when the VR experience is available, only one train runs, and each 2-minute ride requires roughly 7 minutes to load/unload passengers, significantly increasing the ride wait times.

Each rider is given a Samsung Gear VR headset while on the train platform, right before boarding. When boarding the coaster, riders are instructed to lower their shoulder restraints, then put on their headsets. When the ride ends, the shoulder restraints aren’t released until everyone has handed in their headsets.  Most riders choose the VR experience, but some do not - and riders must be at least 13 years old to use the VR (Cedar Point says “this is a headset manufacturer requirement”). The ride operators are constantly managing two sets of VR headsets - distributing, collecting, sanitizing, and assisting riders.

Good News… The experience is really cool. Viewing a VR experience while physically moving is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Instead of flying past people waiting in line for the ride, you get to fly through fantastical mountain valleys, avoiding fire-breathing dragons along the way. 

Bad News… It’s physically and mentally overwhelming. When my 2-minute ride ended, I felt so nauseous that I had to immediately remove my headset. As we pulled into the station, my 9-year old son (we lied about his age) said “Wow, that was amazing... I have a headache.” As far as I can tell, everything worked perfectly for us, and I was amazed at the technology, but I’m not sure I would ever do it again. And I told my wife she wouldn’t enjoy it.

Geeky Stuff: Each headset must be calibrated for each specific row of the train. For example, the VR movie must turn left at the exact same moment that each rider physically turns left. Iron Dragon swings, sways and goes up and down hills. The front of the train is never doing the exact same thing as the back of the train at any given time. If my VR movie ever turned too early or too late, I think I would have really gotten sick.

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