Alton Towers

WATCH: This virtual reality rollercoaster gives you a front-row seat in space

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DAVID NIELD
15 JAN 2016
 

With next-generation virtual reality headsets due out this year from the likes of Oculus, HTC, and Sony, VR technology is set to be one of the fastest moving technologies of 2016. As well as immersive video games and movies, the content creators are looking at all kinds of other uses for these artificial worlds - and that includes a virtual reality rollercoaster due to open at Alton Towers in the UK this April.

 

Riders of the new Galactica ride will strap themselves to the rollercoaster as normal - it's actually the old Alton Towers 'Air Ride' with a new lick of paint - but as they're thrown around, they get to see the wonders of deep space rather than the wonders of the Staffordshire countryside. 

According to Nick Summers at Engadget, the ride uses customised Samsung Gear VR headsets: buy a ticket and for 3 minutes you can peer around you into distant galaxies and warp tunnels. To combat motion sickness, shoulder straps will limit how much you're able to move your head, while sensors are going to be monitoring the position of each headset to make sure everyone on the rollercoaster gets a perfectly rendered view of the stars.

The drops and turns of the ride are going to be synchronised with the Galactica visuals, which solves one of the problems of VR: it's very much a head-only experience if you're strapping on an Oculus Rift or a Gear VR in the comfort of your home.

"Once on-board the Galactica Craft, you'll put on your virtual reality Visor," explains the website. "A first of its generation on a rollercoaster, it's ultra-light so you'll hardly feel like you're wearing anything. It will transform a thrilling ride into something entirely out of this world."

The teaser video above doesn't reveal too much about what you can expect when you climb on board Galactica, but it certainly looks like it's going to be a pretty great experience. Uses for the technology are set to grow exponentially in the coming years, with NASA, medical researchers, and conservationists all already making use of the hardware and software.

Virtual reality has been around for some time, of course, but it's only in recent years that the technology has been developed to a stage where it's now genuinely realistic, relatively affordable and able to be packed inside a compact headset. Early adopters are still going to have to pay top dollar, though: perhaps the most famous consumer product, the Oculus Rift, is now available for pre-order for US$599, or AU$938.

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