With kids out of school, summer is the peak period for amusement parks. If you haven’t been to an amusement park in a while, you may be surprised to find that modern rides have a lot more to offer than their predecessors. Over the last few years, parks all over the world have begun implementing new technologies to increase visitor engagement. In this article, we’ll explore several technologies in particular that have had a substantial role in shaping the landscape of amusement parks.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
In the simplest terms, Virtual Reality (VR) technology creates a new, digital world around you that you can interact with to varying degrees. In recent years, amusement parks have begun adopting this technology in rides and other attractions. Used properly, VR can make rides more entertaining and immersive, transporting riders to a world entirely separate from their own. Consider the experience of riding a conventional roller coaster—being whisked around a track, wind in your face, flying over hills, around stomach-churning turns, through tunnels and loops. As exciting as that may be, now imagine that coaster transporting you through prehistoric Earth or a fantasy world, complete with dinosaurs, dragons, or anything else the ride designers can devise. The core experience is still there but with an added layer of suspense that can convince even the most skeptical park-goers that they’ve been transported to a place outside their reality. And if the experience ever becomes stale, VR technology allows park owners to revitalize the ride and create a brand-new experience through a software update instead of an overhaul of physical infrastructure.
Although many rides currently have VR in place, most still use bulky wired headsets that can be uncomfortable and distract from the experience—but advancements in the coming years should improve this quite a bit. Many rides at Universal Studios Hollywood already feature HD and 3D screens that create an immersive ride experience without the hassle of a headset.
Unlike VR, which creates an entirely new world, Augmented Reality (AR) technology overlays digital elements on top of the real world. As the name suggests, AR takes the existing physical environment and augments it with digital assets, creating an interactive, extraordinary experience that’s grounded in the world we know. Many roller coasters already incorporate elements such as digital projections. At the rate AR technology is advancing, it won’t be long before it’s nearly impossible to distinguish what is real and what is fabricated.
With AR’s diverse applications, parks can also tap into visitors’ experiences outside the rides. For example, specialized apps are used to introduce visitors to the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge park, where visitors can build their own characters and take on missions in and outside the park. These Pokémon Go-type apps can overlay a digital world, like the sci-fi adventures of Star Wars, onto a visitor’s normal environment
Robotics also have a part to play in enhancing the park experience. Amusement park operators have started to use bots (software), robots (hardware), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) behind the scenes to provide additional safety checks on ride infrastructure and to facilitate other aspects of park operations. While these are the most common uses, this technology is not likely to stay behind the scenes for long. For example, some parks have begun to introduce advanced robots as lifelike approximations of beloved characters. In fact, Blooloop reported in 2018 that Disney filed patents to do just that, signaling their intention to create robots “that will move and physically interact like an animated character.”
Parks are constantly looking for ways to streamline payments and navigation through their attractions. In a recent interview with Wharton, tech leads at both Disney and Universal Studios discussed innovations in Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) bracelets within amusement parks. They discussed how RFID technology is currently included in bracelets that serve as guests’ park tickets, payment methods within the park, and fast passes. RFID devices can also help visitors navigate the park by allowing them to input the attractions they want to visit and create a schedule that will avoid long lines.
Personalization via Biotechnology
Biotechnology devices such as Fitbits and other wearables have been around for years, and park operators are looking for ways to use this technology to provide a more personalized experience for guests. Some operators are even exploring reading biometric data such as facial expressions and heart rate to provide a more personalized experience on each ride. For example, a thrill seeker with an excited expression might get a more intense experience on a VR ride than someone who presents a nervous expression.
According to park operators, the future of amusement parks centers on a communal experience that is at once social and hyper-personalized. Amusement parks have always been a social undertaking—when you hear other people screaming on a ride, it gets your adrenaline pumping and enhances your experience. Technological advancements enable parks to go a step further and personalize this experience, allowing each person to take an active role in how they interact with the park.
We hope that you enjoy your time at amusement parks this summer with an increased awareness of how new technology can make your experience even more special!