VR Coaster









Don't you get motion sick when wearing a VR headset while riding a real rollercoaster?

Not at all, as long as the synchronization works. This is because you're not only watching 3D movement, but your inner sense of balance actually feels the real movement.
See the Discoveries section for details on how such a ride is conceived. Even people who are actually afraid of rollercoasters or tend to get motion sick had no problems when riding them while wearing an Oculus Rift.

Most of all, these rides feel much more comfortable than riding an Oculus Rift coaster at home in front of your desktop.


Starting out in march 2014, why didn't you go public any earlier?

Before going public, there were several important things we had to take care of. Especially the technical development and the filing of associated patents are things that can take a very long time. But we also didn't want to come up with unfinished or untested ideas and concepts.
Of course, we had a hard time watching the first videos of people riding coasters with an Oculus Rift surfacing on the web - while we had already been performing dozens and dozens of such rides.

But, knowing that with Mack Rides we're having a major industry partner on our side, we were always confident that their amazing support would make for a great and successful publication of this project, even if it would take some time.

That said, there have been far more than 50 people involved in this project, most of them students who were excited to talk about the coolest university project ever, so there probably has been some leakage via social media. I believe that pretty much all the other students of our university also knew about this project right from the start, so it was quite difficult keeping it somewhat confidential.


How did you solve the synchronization between the real and the VR ride?

Our very first path animations were created based on CAD files and onride video footage. Each Oculus Rift seat was accompanied by an operator who could monitor synchronization and, if needed, speed up or slow down the virtual ride. These early rides served only as a test and a proof of concept.

Meanwhile, we've managed to track the position of each car automatically using an onboard system that is integrated in each car of the Blue Fire. This system tracks position and speed of the wheels and was originally intended for controlling onboard audio and video recording. Now, the job of the operator has become much easier, but it is still important having a supervisor who can help if something goes wrong.

Using an inductive sensor, holes in the wheel get detected, counted and reported to the
PC to calculate speed and position


Can you operate a laptop while riding a rollercoaster at all?

It is quite challenging, indeed, but it is possible. In order for the operators to be able to control the applications, we've put all major functions on keys that are easy to reach with the thumbs while holding on to the casing.
Also, Mack Rides provided special mountings, fitting exactly the coaster seats and our MacBook Pro laptops, so nothing would fall off during the ride.

That said, using touch pad and mouse cursor during the ride quickly turned out to be fairly impossible.

A MacBook Pro is mounted on a Blue Fire seat, using racks that have been specially tailored by Mack Rides


Don't the Oculus Rift sensors fail under such extreme g-forces?

No, it turned out that they keep working totally precise throughout the entire ride.
Even the strong magnetic field of the linear motor that accelerates the Blue Fire train to 115 km/h in 2.5 seconds did not influence the sensors (this was another concern, as the Rift is also measuring the magnetic field of the earth, pretty much like a compass).


Aren't you afraid of an Oculus Rift falling off during a ride?

During our first rides, we all wore bicycle helmets to prevent the headsets from falling off. But after some time, we noticed that there were no strong enough forces to pull the Oculus Rift off.

Still, we use our special custom-made chin straps that make sure the headsets stay tight.

The very first ride on April 7th 2014. A bicycle helmet was used to secure the Oculus Rift;
All our early tests have been performed with such helmets.

Our custom-made chin straps quickly turned out to be way more comfortable than the bicycle helmets from the early tests

Did you also test this with the new Oculus Rift DK2 headsets?

Yes, our setup also works with the new DK2 headset, but we can't use the camera for additional head tracking.
Otherwise, when going through a curve, the viewing direction would continuously recalibrate and "snap back". The headset sensors still detect every turn correctly, but the camera only recognizes relative movement. And with the camera mounted to the rollercoaster car (moving in line with the passenger), it would permanently report that no turning has occurred, thus overwriting the sensor measurements. But when running without the camera, the DK2 headsets work just great.
As a side effect, we're saving another USB port when going without the camera - and this is just fine, given we already have power supply, gamepad and the Rift itself connected via USB.


What software framework did you use?

Unity 3D.


What are students learning in "Virtual Design"?

Though based on technical backgrounds, Virtual Design is a creative and artistic study course, focussing on design, CG, visual effects and digital arts in general.

Applicants for Virtual Design have to pass a special qualifying examination, testing their creative ability and graphical talent.
Many are aiming for a job in the special effects industry, some are going for the advertising industry and some are focussing on video game design.You are pretty much free to choose your own way. If you are interested in studying Virtual Design, take a look at our website.


Do all students have to ride the rollercoasters in order to pass this project's exam?

No, their seminar work is to create a VR interpretation of one of the two rollercoasters, but not necessarily to ride them. But, as most of them are working in groups, there are always enough voluntary testers, anyway.




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