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Virtual Reality In Attractions: A Designer’s Viewpoint

Virtual Reality In Attractions: A Designer’s Viewpoint


To fully understand the potential of virtual reality (VR) in attractions and destinations, we should briefly understand VR’s history outside the context of attractions.

In 1965, the idea of a head mounted display (HMD) attached to a computer was born. It enabled the wearer to see a primitive graphical virtual world; but the sheer weight of this display meant that it had to be attached to a suspension device.

Ivan Sutherland’s “The Sword of Damocles” first head-mounted VR & AR Headset

By the 1990s, we all became aware of the hype surrounding this technology, but that hype had an adverse effect and led to a decrease in its popularity. Many people felt that virtual reality had not delivered on its early promises.

1995’s Nintendo Virtual Boy

In 2011, Palmer Luckey put together a low cost lightweight prototype in his parent’s garage and would go on to develop the first VR headset for a mass audience.

In the past few years, we’ve seen an exponential and unprecedented growth in VR technology as we move from being tethered to a completely mobile device.

VR Demo at U. Teas/Austin

In the near future, the outward appearance of the head-mounted display will probably shrink to the size of sunglasses. Augmented reality (AR) and VR will be consolidated into one device, along with various other innovative technologies that will allow it to stream data. The content used in the VR experience is developed from video game technology; and with the advances in real-time computer graphics, developers are able to provide a VR experience that is compelling to consumers. In just a few years, we have solved many of the issues required for VR & AR to work. Early adopters have brought the device to the forefront… but many issues remain.

Six months from now, those developers will have a better idea about what works and what doesn’t. Things are advancing exponentially in the virtual reality space in a way that they were unable to before.

Virtual Reality in Attractions

There is no doubt the next five years we will see an unprecedented acceleration of VR, AR, and mixed-use realities transforming how we visualize, design, and experience attractions. Currently, the trend is turning a basic roller-coaster into a moving visual ride, meshing physical objects with state-of-the-art CGI and filmic aspects is an obvious first step. Utilizing VR in the design process will open new worlds and ideas. Designing with the technology, and not just as a layer on an existing design, will produce experiences we can only now begin to imagine.


It’s not unfathomable that within a few years we will see attractions integrate VR and AR as the primary content, and the physical world will provide believably to the experience. Within five to ten years, we’ll be able to generate complete realism in real-time. The experience will be powered by eye-wear the size of standard sunglasses. A culmination of technologies will open up interactivity, which will allow us to share the experience.


Layering of real-time interactive environments and blending the real world with the digital will yield something we can’t yet fully grasp. VR and AR will mesh into a mixed-reality device capable of seamlessly transporting us to all the places in our imaginations. These mixed reality devices will allow for switching seamlessly from VR to AR. These various types of presence-based experiences will not only allow imaginative new thrills, but the way in which we develop the experience leading up to the attraction will be enhanced.


One day, we may look back on the current state of bigger, faster, higher attractions nostalgically; just as we are fond of wooden coasters and the way things used to be. The new era of presence-based attractions seems upon us.

Or is it? A boom in sophisticated technology behind the scenes is driving the resurgence of analog attractions. Blending the virtual and real-world will allow us to create completely new attraction genres and perhaps experience the existing ones in new and exciting ways.

Regardless, the inventive innovative experience happens as designers of attractions strive to connect emotion and the simple thrills of sharing an experience.


How do you see the future of AR and VR at attractions evolving? What types of technological advances in this field are you excited about?

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