The Virtual Reality Roller Coaster Has Arrived

March 6, 2016, 5:03 PM UTC
Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 (Macintosh) Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 (Macintosh)

Disney theme parks have been using virtual reality to design new rides and attractions, and Landmark Entertainment is building a virtual reality theme park in China. But now Six Flags Entertainment Corporation is bringing virtual reality to actual roller coasts across nine of its theme parks this month.

Six Flags (SIX) has partnered with Samsung Electronics America to integrate the mobile Gear VR device into virtual reality rides that were designed to take advantage of every twist and turn in the roller coaster track. Samsung is now the “official technology partner” of Six Flags, and its Facebook (FB) Oculus technology is powering two new virtual reality rides.

Nick DiCarlo, vice president and general manager of immersive products and virtual reality at Samsung, says Six Flags patrons will experience Gear VR from a Galaxy S6 edge. However, Gear VR is also compatible with Samsung’s latest smartphones including the newly introduced Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, as well as the Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, and Note5.

Brett Petit, senior vice president of marketing for Six Flags, says the company has been exploring VR for years, but now the technology exists to deliver the types of one-of-a-kind experiences it was looking for.

“The expertise and hardware that Samsung provides, with the Gear VR and their partnership with Oculus, is really what took this to the next level and made virtual reality on a roller coaster possible,” Petit says.

Petit says using CAD (computer-aided design) drawings and technical layouts, Six Flags ride designers crafted the story lines, perfectly syncing the movements of each roller coaster with what riders are seeing on their Gear VR headsets, bringing it all to life.

Six theme park rides will debut New Revolution virtual reality coasters, including Shock Wave at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia, The New Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain near Los Angeles, Ninja at Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka, Steamin’ Demon at The Great Escape in Lake George, New York, and Goliath at La Ronde in Montreal.

New Revolution puts riders in the co-pilot seat of fighter jets battling aliens in air-to-air combat. The ride even allows riders to fire weapons at alien ships through new interactive gameplay technology that takes advantage of Gear VR’s video game capabilities.

Three theme park rides have been converted to Superman virtual reality coasters, including Superman Krypton Coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, Superman The Ride at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts, and Superman Ride of Steel at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

This ride focuses on the comic book super hero, bringing a 360-degree tour of Metropolis to life courtesy of Lex Corp Sky Tours. After Lex Luther and his Lex Bots wreak havoc with gravity in the city, riders fly along with Superman as he battles Lex and his mechanized minions to restore order to the city.

By adding virtual reality to pre-existing rides, theme parks are able to change experiences from year to year without constructing new multi-million dollar rides.

“The possibilities are almost endless when you consider all of the different concepts and themed worlds that can be created—we can now provide experiences you can only do in a virtual world, like the ability to fly alongside Superman, be the co-pilot of a jet fighter and save the planet, explore outer space…the list goes on,” Petit says. “We have the ability to swap out those virtual experiences or even give guests a choice of what adventure they want to ride each time.”

One issue that Disney and other theme park developers have brought up with implementing virtual reality is hygiene, since so many guests ride a roller coaster on a typical day.

Petit says all parts of the headset that touch a rider’s face and head are covered in an anti-microbial leather and cleansed between every use with anti-bacterial wipes.

In addition, charging stations will be located at each ride to ensure there are sufficient phones available for guests throughout the day.

Six Flags Entertainment Corporation has 18 parks across the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The company experienced a record 2015. Revenues grew $88 million, or 7.5%, to $1.3 billion last year. And attendance grew by 2.9 million guests, or 11.4%, to 28.6 million guests in 2015.