British theme park Alton Towers has announced plans to open what it says is the first roller coaster ride to integrate virtual reality. The Galactica attraction will see users don VR goggles and board carriages that position them seated but face down, to replicate the feeling of flying (the ride is a rebranding of an older roller coaster named "Air").
According to Galactica's website, the virtual reality simulation will then take passengers on "a mesmerizing journey through the wonders of space." Customers will "fly across heavenly clouds on the Great Orion Nebula, lava lakes on Nero 5, frozen landscapes on Kepler 9, and even witness the birth of a new star." Although despite these grand destinations, the tour itself will be short, with the ride lasting just 189 seconds according to BBC News.
There have been plenty of virtual reality simulations emulating rides and roller coasters, and even some that add physical components to enhance the experience (this one, for example, makes users lie down and flap paddles to make them feel like a bird). However, this is the first time we've seen one that takes what is already an exciting experience and tries to turn it into something even better.
There are challenges that will come with this, of course, including motion sickness. Although, according to Engadget, Alton Towers claims to have solved this, using sensors to ensure the simulation is "perfectly synchronized" with the ride. Additionally, body movement is limited by shoulder straps, and a custom VR rig is supposed to make sure customers "hardly feel" the pair of bulky goggles they're wearing.
Galactica is scheduled to open in April, and riders will reportedly be given the option of wearing the headsets. That invites the question — will the ride be more thrilling in virtual reality or in real life?