A rollercoaster company in Germany called Mack Rides joined forces with a team of virtual reality developers in the spring of 2014 to create an experience like no other.
The idea came from [Thomas], a professor at the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern who was working in the department of Virtual Design at the time. The thought of extending a real rollercoaster ride with an Oculus Rift was an intriguing one, so he approached Mack Rides with the experiment, and the ground-breaking research began.
Hundreds of tests were done over the following weeks and months, which provided insight into how we perceive time and space while inside VR. This led to some interesting discoveries. For one, the VR track inside the Rift could be more complex than the real one. This meant that the directions could be contorted into different angles without the user feeling much of a difference. Knowing this, the developers were able to unfold/extend the track well beyond what was possible in real life.
Another epiphany had to do with the rails, which actually didn’t have to be present in VR at all. In fact, it was better if the tracks weren’t there because the experience was much more exciting not knowing which way the ride was suddenly going to take. This made things exponentially more surprising and compelling.
By far the most startling revelation was the reduction in dizziness and motion sickness during the tests. This was attributed to the complex synchronization that the mind goes through when melding together g-forces and the actual rollercoaster rides with the virtual ones displayed inside the Oculus Rift.
In this project, the virtual reality goggles acted like an augmented filter that could be added to the speedy, thrilling rollercoaster ride, drastically altering the experience. Yet, at the same time, the rollercoaster itself almost resembled a haptic feedback system for the virtual reality device giving the wearer a sense of perception that they normally would not feel in a typical VR experience at home. The blending of all of this made it hard to tell exactly where the VR space began, and whether or not this should be considered AR or not.
Obviously, people are going to ask “what’s the point here?” It’s understandable to think that virtual reality is meant for indoor use and that strapping on a headset on a rollercoaster ride is figuratively taking the person out reality, making them ignorant to what is going on around them. However, it seems like this experiment is more like the melding of two worlds (the physical and the virtual). Not only does this project push the boundaries of what VR can do, but it shows that our minds can be easily tricked into experiencing something more. And if you do it right, the side-effects involved (like motion sickness) can be eliminated due to a perfect combination of hardware, software, and centrifugal forces. It’s an amazing discovery that should be applauded, and the research discovered here will surely influence the work of virtual reality developers in the future.