Virtual reality headsets can trick your eyes and ears into thinking you're someplace else, but what about the rest of your body? Alton Towers thinks it has the answer and, unsurprisingly, it involves a massive roller coaster. The British theme park today unveiled "Galactica," a new ride that will see attendees strapping on Gear VR headsets and hurtling around a track lying facedown. As the name implies, it's a space-themed affair -- during its three-minute runtime you'll be able to look around and take in the depths of space, including molten-covered planets and wormholes.
Alton Towers says it's the first time a roller coaster has been dedicated entirely to virtual reality. The "narrative" of the ride revolves around a space tourism company called Galactica; each passenger takes on the role of a pioneering "Galactanaut" embarking on their first trip. The flying coaster's visuals will take you from the launch pad up into space, before pushing you through a warp tunnel and across undiscovered galaxies.
Motion sickness is an obvious concern, but Alton Towers believes it's solved the problem. The ride, which is a modified and rebranded version of its Air roller coaster, will have shoulder straps that make it difficult to move your head left or right. As such, the park's systems only have to worry about motion-tracking the coaster itself, rather than your bodily movements. There will be sensors monitoring each individual headset, however, ensuring the space visuals are "perfectly synchronised" as you tilt your head vertically. That's the claim, anyway. The company says it's also developed a custom tethering system, so the headset will never fall off your face, and head straps so that it remains sweat-free.
The sci-fi visuals, combined with the ride's 3.5 Gs, should create an experience that's both unique and impossible to recreate at home. Still, it does seem odd to offer a ride with physical drops and turns that you'll never actually see. Your body will feel them, of course, but your eyes and imagination will be fixated somewhere else. Notably, the ride will offer a VR-free version too, so if you prefer the park's views -- which in some ways might be scarier -- that's perfectly fine. We're not entirely convinced by the VR-infused concept, but it shouldn't be long before we can try it for ourselves; Alton Towers says it's on course to open this April.
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