Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen amusement parks experiment with virtual reality in their attractions. Whether it is a virtual reality roller coaster in Six Flags New England or staring up at King Kong at Universal’s Skull Island ride, variations on the same idea have popped up in amusement parks around the world. One can even argue older Disney rides like Star Tours and the retired Body Wars were in their own way virtual reality attractions. Yet, as the technology ramps up and becomes more accessible and versatile, the industry will likely either embrace or reject the technology.
Walt Disney CEO, Bob Iger, has definitively said that Disney will not be embracing virtual reality, and Disney guests will not be wearing VR headsets when they visit the park. However, he did advocate for augmented reality.
Might as Well Have Stayed at Home
Iger argues that part of the attraction of amusement parks is that they have built an immersive and fantastical physical location. That’s not something the average consumer can do at home. If an amusement park were to veer too far into virtual reality, there’d be little point to going to an amusement park at all. You might as well stay home in your living room.
“When you walk into Cars Land, you feel you’re in Radiator Springs because of what we’ve built — not only the attention to the detail, but the scale.”
The Augment Alternative
Disney’s augmented reality strategy addresses Iger’s concerns while not bristling at the changing times. Instead of creating completely virtual spaces, augmented reality allows the opportunity to layer a virtual experience on top of the physical one. Rather than replacing the fantastic nature of the park with a digital vision, it would enhance the already fantastic setting with virtual elements.
At this time, it seems actual implementation of this idea is still to come. There are more obstacles to the launch of augmented reality than its virtual cousin, and the technology is not quite there yet. But, there are plenty of interesting ideas on what this initiative could yield.
Projection-Based Augment Reality
In April 2017, Disney filed a patent for projection-based augmented reality. Rather than headsets, the technology would, as the name implies, project the virtual image onto a physical set to create an augmented virtual experience. A good example of this technology in action would be in their Haunted Mansion attraction in which the talking face of a ghost is projected onto a blank-faced bust. It gives the appearance of a talking statue.
That is, however, a limited example of what this technology would be able to achieve. The patent includes diagrams of two guests sitting at a table for tea. The patent suggests that the guests at the table would be able to interact and move these virtual table settings as they wish in real time.
Though this projection-based augmented reality does not require a headset, it does have its limitations. The projection must be aimed at a flat two dimensional surface, and doesn’t account for a full immersive environment.
The Future of Fun
It’s unlikely that either augmented reality or virtual reality will eliminate the other in the market. There is demand for both of these experiences, and amusement parks are exploring their appeal and innovating along the way. In either case, we can expect both of these technologies to gain a larger foothold in theme parks over the next few years as AR and VR continue to mature.