Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bolliger and Mabillard's Wing Coaster and the Future of the Roller Coaster - Version 2

I used to be interested in roller coasters. I liked riding them and I played games in the series Roller Coaster Tycoon. I found out about Bolliger and Mabillard, the famous Swiss roller coaster company's new roller coaster type, The Wing Coaster.

It is in my opinion, a roller coaster that finally jumped the shark. It's essentially the same thing as the 4th dimension style of roller coaster. On the 4th dimension roller coaster the passsengers are on the outside of the track and spin at preassigned places thanks to a special set of rails. The wing coaster is merely a toned down version of that where the passengers are on the outside of the track but they don't spin. It doesn't offer anything that the inverted roller coaster or the floorless coaster didn't before. The tagline is 'Nothing above or below."

So stepping back from this, what can roller coasters do next? They've made rollercoasters that spin horizontally, ones that spin vertically, and they've built rides on both the top and bottom of the track. They've made pipeline coasters that are enclosed inside of the track. They've suspended them to swing below the track. You can stand up on a standup coaster or sit down on a sitdown coaster. Should they spin the passengers in just about any direction by enclosing them in space ring-like spinners that spin them in even more directions and up the nausea factor?

It seems pretty clear that there's few new ways to jolt people around. The only ways left I can conceive of is to have the equivalent of a suspended coaster on top of the track, a slider coaster which slides a little ways off of each side of the track. That and a rumble coaster that rumbles the cars around on springs at various points in the ride. For that they get to decide whether they want to be strategic in moving the cars for a particular purpose or whether they want to aim more for a rumble effect. I suppose the same could go for the slider coaster. As of yet, few roller coasters seem to want to combine thrills, like there's no standup wooden or hyper (200 foot plus) coasters. That may change in the future but I suspect things will largely remain the same due to simplicity of ride maintenance and design.

Now that I've considered all these different ways to jolt around passengers, I feel like coming up with alternative ways to thrill people. There may be a backwards launched roller coaster but I've yet to discover it. What if you put the ride really high up and ejected random people from the ride with parachutes? That's a nice fantasy. Rearranging people in the train wouldn't work outside of the individual cars because it wouldn't work on anything but straight track. The most thrilling idea of all I've yet to hear, a roller coaster designed to safely crash into itself. So what else could you do, cover up all the cars so people can't see out of them, creating an additional bit of surprise for people who can't remember the layout of the roller coaster? It turns out that there's more. There's no roller coaster that I know of that has the car on the side of the track, they're always on the top or the bottom. So you could make a sideways roller coaster. I've come up with a new idea where you can create two versions of the same roller coaster, one that starts in a station where the track's tilted at a 45 degree angle, the other on a flat track. The 45 degree one would have the cars designed so that the seats are tilted 45 degrees against the track's angle opposite the direction the track tilts. Both trains would go over the same layout.

It's pretty clear from these suggestions that there's room for a certain amount of innovation in the roller coaster. Roller coasters are the current peak attractions at theme parks. There's other attractions to deliver thrills like drop towers and harnessed rides where you're able to swing back and forth from a cable. I've tried one at Paramount's Great America. There's certainly enough rides to rock you or spin you through space. Water rides like log flumes, river rapids, and river rafts are also fun, sometimes more so than roller coasters. There's also wonderful experiences to be had in motion simulators and theatrical attractions. The biggest contender which commonly exists inside and outside amusement parks is go karts. For the most part, however, roller coasters are the predominant theme and amusement park attraction. Will the always remain that way, or is an attraction going to come along that can surpass the roller coaster?

In order to figure this out, we need to look at what makes a roller coaster different from other rides. The first thing is the track, which may or may not have rails. The primary thing is that there is some sort of rolling wheels, and there usually is a track except in the case of bobsled coasters and their predecessor the flying turns. Outside of roller coasters, except in the case of water rides and rides with consistent powered speed like kiddie car rides, there's usually no track but instead some other system for organizing it. There's rides which are rotating wheels and ovals, rides which move around on giant arms, and so on. Then there are interactive rides.

I'd like to talk first about one new type of ride that's a logical progression from the roller coaster. One with the wheels on the inside of the track, perhaps with single cars. You could branch out the track and have places where one can transfer from one track to another. I can think of two basic types of layouts- Web where everything's connected and Maze where some parts are connected and others aren't. This type of attraction opens a possibility of driving of a sort because you the rider could, if the designers wished, choose your own path to follow. If things weren't complex enough already, there's the possibility of moving the track itself. Theoretically you could do any number of things with moving track, but these possibilities are in reality, very energy intensive, so you're unlikely to see any complex rides with track rearranged continually like the neurons in a young rodent's brain. Nonetheless, the concept is feasible and in its implausibility is worthy of being presented in a motion simulator. So what would this be called then? I'd call it the branch coaster.

I suspect but cannot prove that the track is one of the keys to creating a complex ride with interesting motion because without some sort of track the only real options are to spin and swing passengers. For this reason I consider this evolution away from the roller coaster to also be the pinnacle of the evolution of the complex theater ride itself, save for one more thing.

Now let's shift subjects into the magnetic levitation coaster, the likely ride to succeed the roller coaster.

How might the magnetic roller coaster evolve considering the safety risks and all? I suspect that for regular open air magnetic levitation coasters, there might be some way to attach the train to the track in case of emergencies. I suspect that others might opt for a magnetic levitation coaster inside of a pipeline that floats and moves around like a bobsled inside of a pipeline. It's tough to say what sorts of magnetic levitation coasters might be made, as much of what might be made could very well depend on what hasn't yet been done within real life roller coasters. At some point, this could be done earlier in roller coasters, there's going to be segments where you can speed up or slow down regardless of gravity. Magnetic levitation is perhaps the logical outcome of the continual quest for greater speeds. Roller coasters today are already launched through magnetic levitation, which allows roller coasters to travel at speeds that can't even be reached through gravity due to terminal velocity, the speed at which air resistance disallows for an object to fall faster. At some point I suspect that the search for greater speed will result in two developments: the abandonment of rails due to friction constraints and the use of enclosed trains due to the feeling of wind at high speeds.

Now here's where the quest for speed gets truly interesting. In order for roller coasters to keep going faster, past the speed of a few hundred miles per hour, that is if the speed craze keeps going long enough, roller coasters will have to be built on the tops of mountains or suspended in the air. At some point the only place left to go is the moon. But on the moon the magnetic field is weak, which means magnetic levitation coasters probably won't be built and that's only if exorbitant costs, community approval, and a host of other things don't get in the way. At some point the logical progression of thrills from roller coasters leads elsewhere then to aerial and space flights. What the ultimate thrill one can come up with through physical means is remains to be seen.

The other extreme one can go in is maximum length. The longest roller coaster ever made has probably yet to be built. Magnetic levitation coasters could be built very long without the need for a very high height. But there's always the possibility of having multiple lift hills and riders might even prefer a break in the action of the ride.

Now for the other alternative to the roller coaster, the option is to somehow abandon the use of a track and bring the motion simulator into real space. This could be accomplished through one of a couple possible means. One is to move a car or train on tall poles which can be magnetically moved around the room. The other, if possible, is to somehow generate a changing magnetic field to move the passengers through the room without the need for poles. I'd call this new type of ride the freecoaster. In addition to being able to simulate rides and go along any number of layouts there's one other advantage which this type of coaster shares with the motion simulator and theatrical attractions. You can study the rider's reactions through careful analysis and change the course of the attraction according to how they behave. Such manipulation might be considered a breach of a person's free will however, and might be made illegal.

I could talk some more about other possibilities but there's enough here to digest so I'll let you consider the future of the roller coaster.

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