05 Jun 2008 00:00:00.000
Rollercoasters that can respond to the emotions of their passengers are being developed by scientists pushing the boundaries of theme park thrills.
Experts at The University of Nottingham's Mixed Reality Laboratory (MRL), in collaboration with design practice Aerial, have been awarded £87,892 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop thrill rides that can respond to human emotions.
Initial research will focus on developing reliable real-time systems for monitoring and interpreting rider physiology "€“ with the ultimate goal of creating rides that can automatically adapt to maximise each rider's experience.
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Research will capitalise on the success of Aerial's recent Thrill Laboratory events at the Science Museum and Alton Towers, featuring experiments developed with MRL. These involved strapping riders to monitoring equipment, including heart rate monitors and video cameras, to reveal their emotions whilst riding on the 'Oblivion' rollercoaster.
The MRL is a dedicated studio facility at the University where academics from a wide variety of disciplines collaborate to explore the potential of the latest mobile technology to shape everyday life. Biofeedback and recording technology developed at the MRL allows physiological data to be recorded during a ride, including video of people's faces, audio, heart rate, galvanic skin response and acceleration.
Aerial is a design practice specialising in the creation of tailored emotional experience, blending strategies from the arts, design, engineering and psychology.
Over the next year the partners will trial different technologies, collecting data across different types of thrilling rides and attractions at Alton Towers, who are supporting the research. The partners will work closely with psychologists at The University of Nottingham to help make sense of what they find. The partners will be also be joined by RoboCoaster, manufacturers of the world's only robotic ride, who will help to identify future potential ride applications.
By the end of the year, the partners hope to design and build a demonstrator ride to highlight the possibilities such technologies might offer. They also plan to offer rider data and monitoring techniques as a resource for designers of extreme experiences in other sectors of the entertainment industry.
Professor Steve Benford of The University of Nottingham, co-founder of the Mixed Reality Laboratory, said: "People are no longer willing to be passive consumers of experiences, but rather expect to be able to interact, explore, participate, shape, share and discuss them."
Brendan Walker, a former aeronautical engineer who specialises in the study of emotionally stirring experiences, is the director of Aerial.
He said: "What we're doing here could be really exciting for other entertainment businesses, including gaming, sport, TV and film. We plan to add objective experience analysis to the arsenal of tools designers and marketeers already use, whilst also developing new interactive entertainment possibilities."
The EPSRC-funded project is entitled "Wearable biosensing and the design, documentation and adaptation of entertainment experiences" - a one year feasibility study into applying 'emotional computing' in an entertainment context. Professor Benford is principal investigator on the project with co-investigators Professor Tom Rodden and Dr Boriana Koleva, also from the School of Computer Science and IT, and Professor Peter Chapman from the School of Psychology.
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Notes to editors:
Mixed Reality Laboratory: http://www.mrl.nott.ac.uk/
The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation - School of Pharmacy).
Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for four years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.