There are plenty of virtual reality games that simulate the thrills and spills of a real roller coaster, but what about using VR to make an existing roller coaster even more thrilling? UK theme park Alton Towers is doing just that with Galactica, a new three-minute ride that lets thrill-seekers strap on a Samsung Gear VR headset and zoom face-down across a track while taking in the depths of space – including molten planets and wormholes. The ride, which is a rebrand of the park’s existing Air ride, will open in April.
While the idea of combining Galactica’s 3.5G power with VR is a potentially brilliant idea, it poses a few problems. Of course, with the coaster zooming around at 75 kilometers per hour (47 mph), it’s going to be quite a challenge to make sure the VR headsets synchronize with its movement to avoid motion sickness. Alton Towers minimizes the problem by implementing shoulder straps that make it difficult to move your head left or right, and sensors that monitor each individual headset as riders tilt their heads vertically.
To add to the experience, Alton Towers has created an entire story around the ride, which revolves around a space tourism company called Galactica and each passenger taking on the role of a pioneering ‘Galactanaut’. Riders move from a launch pad into space, before moving through a warp tunnel to undiscovered galaxies. Yes, the story is a bit cheesy, but like most rollercoasters, it will work just fine as long as it gets the riders pumped up enough before they start screaming themselves crazy.
For those who find the prospect of Galactica a little off at excitingly, the park will also offer a VR-free option, although that might be even scarier depending on your point of view. Either way, Alton Towers certainly hopes the ride will draw a few punters: Last year, the Smiler rollercoaster crashed, seriously injuring five people and dropping attendance from then on. Alton Towers blames the accident on “human error”.