Tapping the Power of Hi-Fi Motion to Inspire Visitors

East Aurora, NY Moog Inc. (NYSE: MOG.A and MOG.B): From CNBC to Science Daily, journalists are writing about the benefits of buying experiences (e.g., the happiness derived is longer lasting) instead of things. For amusement and theme-park operators that’s good news. But park operators have to refresh these experiences to deliver growth.

“Repeat visitation is the key to theme park business,” says Dr. Duncan Dickson, associate professor for the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. “When you’re trying to generate turn-style clicks and 60 percent of the visitors have been there before, you have to create a desire to come back.”

One way to reinvest is via innovation, which also inspires customers. A ride with a high degree of immersive qualities will make customers part of the story in the same way they might experience playing a game with virtual reality gear. The thrill keeps customers coming back. Immersive rides conjure up a multi-sensory experience. The most successful theme parks already add acoustic, visual and olfactory effects with high fidelity on some rides. Motion provides an additional dimension that is typically beyond the norm.  It provides the “feel,” or, in most cases, the thrill. Motion provides the rider with a way to safely experience a seemingly dangerous situation. Turning the riders fear into thrill hopefully generates a desire in the rider to come back.

Time to fine tune motion control

Outside the entertainment industry, there are motion simulation systems for giving commercial and military pilots the real feel of flying airplanes and helicopters. There are also high-fidelity motion simulators for teaching construction and farm workers to drive heavy equipment. There are even high-fidelity virtual reality eye surgery simulators that give medical professionals a way to perform thousands of virtual surgeries before ever operating on a real patient.

  • A helicopter NH90 full-flight simulator by Sogitec Industries.

High-fidelity motion simulation is literary the foundation for immersive environments. Here’s how high-tech motion control works for flight simulators: Pilots strap themselves into a seat installed in the cockpit section of a simulator. The “cockpit” features a spherical multi-screen display, much like a smaller version of an I-Max theater. The pilot’s controls (i.e., stick, throttle and rudder) are hooked to the computer generating the graphics on the inside of the dome, which provides visual cues of the aircraft’s movements. These actuators push or pull on the pilot and recreate accelerations in a way that mirror takeoff and flying. The motion system actuators underpinning these high-fidelity simulators recreate many of the effects of take-off and climb even though the simulator never moves higher than the stroke length of the actuators underpinning the system.

Translating industrial motion into entertainment

To make riders feel like they’re actually in a story, theme park operator can work with ride designers to add high-performance motion control to the visual and audio effects that are often already done so well. For instance, imagine a patron sitting in a G-seat in a theater watching a superhero battle crime. The camera angle is shot from behind and just above the heroine’s shoulder. As the heroine leaps from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of a villain, the patron literally feels like he, too, is leaping along with his favorite character. The motion control and orientation enhance what the audience member sees.

One of the benefits of current 4D theater technology is that once you have it in place, it typically lasts between 20 to 30 years with proper maintenance. This allows a park to generate a long stream of profits from a capital investment. One of the new and exciting developments is the integration of gaming engines with these theater systems. The integration of a gaming engine with a 4D theater allows the park to “re-theme” the ride relatively quickly and inexpensively. With gaming engines, developers create new, high-fidelity graphic content within a synthetic environment. The developers then ensure the visual, motion and any other cues integrate automatically with the real-time computer of the 4D theater. This integration work eliminates the additional synchronization of cues necessary for delivering a high-fidelity immersive experience to the rider. In fact, this breakthrough in integrating gaming engines with 4D theater technology should significantly reduce the cost and cycle time of re-theming amusement rides. With gaming engines and 4D theater technology integrated, park operators can become more nimble and develop new experiences frequently to capitalize on trends, and, ultimately, enhance a park’s bottom line.

Act II: Motion that inspires, haptics in entertainment

Traditionally, motion cueing for entertainment purposes has relied on rotary and linear motion. Both create a level of thrill ranging from freefall to the effects of disorientation, albeit in a safe manner. The feelings derived from these motion cues certainly provide riders with a way to connect with something and someplace they wouldn’t often, or ever, experience outside a park.

As mentioned above, inspiring patrons and boosting theme park attendance takes a constant push for reinvestment and innovation. If you attract 20 million visitors per year, how do you get more the next year? Theme park attendance rose from 2017 to 2018, according to reports that Dickson monitors. He expects a healthy economy and favorable earnings reports for some park operators to contribute to another uptick in attendance for 2019.

“High capacity is an important part of the product,” notes Dickson. “It’s always something [park operators] have to take a look at.”

That attendance number could increase by opening new themed lands and rides inside parks that cater to millennials, since they’re such a large demographic. But here’s another strategy:  Ever higher levels of sophistication with motion, including the particularly intriguing element called haptics, hold a key for inspiring visitors and getting them to come back.

Haptics, which comes from the Greek word “haptikos,” means a sense of touch. If you tap an app on your mobile device, the vibration or sensation you feel is a kind of haptics. Savvy theme park operators will begin investing in haptics to open new opportunities. Here are a few examples that could become reality with high-performance motion controls. Imagine a ride where you enter the home of your favorite superhero. As the door opens, your hero greets you, smiles, says your name and shakes your hand and you feel the warmth, strength and pulse of the hand. Or you step into a themed land where you play the role of surgeon. You experience what it’s like to perform surgery, including what it feels and looks like to perform a medical procedure. An attraction like that just might inspire someone to become a medical professional.

About the author

Tobe Ehmann is the Simulation & Test business development manager for the Americas at Moog Inc. You can meet Tobe and Moog at IAAPA Expo 2019 in booth 2073 where you’ll see Moog motion bases for 4D theaters and dark rides. Learn how Moog solutions bring thrills to theme parks around the globe. Moog brings your concept to reality.