3D Printed Model Roller Coaster Accurately Simulates The Real Thing

A model roller coaster

While they don’t give the physical thrill of a real one, model roller coasters are always fun to watch. However, they actually make a poor analog of a full-sized ride, as gravitational force and aerodynamic drag don’t scale down in the same way, model roller coasters usually move way faster than the same design would in the real world. [Jon Mendenhall] fixed this deficiency by designing a model roller coaster that accurately simulates a full-sized ride.

The track and cart are all made of 3D printed pieces, which altogether took about 400 hours to print. The main trick to the system’s unique motion is that the cart is motorized: a brushless DC motor moves it along the track using a rack-and-pinion system. This means that technically this model isn’t a roller coaster, since the cart never makes a gravity-powered drop; it’s actually a small rack railway, powered by a lithium-ion battery carried on board the cart. An ESP32 drives the motor, receiving its commands through WiFi, while the complete setup is controlled by a Raspberry Pi that runs the cart through a predetermined sequence.

The design of the track was inspired by the Fury 325 roller coaster and simulated in NoLimits 2. [Jon] wrote his own software to generate all the pieces to be printed based on outputs from the simulator. This included all the track pieces as well as the large A-frames holding it up; some of these were too long to fit in [Jon]’s 3D printers and had to be built from smaller pieces. The physics simulation also provided the inputs to the controller in the form of a script that contains the proper speed and acceleration at each point along the track.

The end result looks rather slow compared to other model roller coasters, but actually feels realistic if you imagine yourself inside the cart. While it’s not the first 3D printed roller coaster we’ve seen, it’s probably the only one that accurately simulates the real thing. If you’re more interested in a roller coaster’s safety systems, we’ve featured them too.

11 thoughts on “3D Printed Model Roller Coaster Accurately Simulates The Real Thing

  1. “I don’t have a lot a space for that” says the guy about a physical controller, while standing next to a massive plastic rollercoaster in a house with a massive woodland yard. Lol.

    1. It wold be cool to record a real roller coaster in action with metal wheels and screams and then have the controller play it back synced to the climbing and dips.

      What a fabulous project!

  2. Re: How forever don’t scale in models…
    The first time I saw CA Great America’s Trailblazer it reminded me of a model coaster because it was so fast and nimble, seemingly more than it should have been.

  3. Beautiful job! Really looks nice. Fun fact: at 8:24 you say the larger black drive gear gives you more torque than direct driving the motor pinion on the rack. In fact, it’s just an idler gear and you get the same speed & torque as if you drove directly off the pinion. But of course that’s usually not practical and the idler lets you locate the motor in a variety of locations. But any size idler would yield the same results. Please don’t let my nit-picking detract from your amazing concept and execution, it’s absolutely spectacular. Keep it up, I can’t wait to see what you make next!

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