All the fun of the fair

04 Mar 2009 09:30:00.000

PA 55/09

Scientists from The University of Nottingham will bring the thrill of the fairground ride to a major science event in London. Visitors will have a unique opportunity to control a fairground attraction and alter the level of thrill it provides.


By controlling the ride — a bucking bronco-style giant egg — they will be able to base their decisions on exactly how a performer riding the egg is feeling from moment to moment.


The exhibit will be one of the main attractions at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) showcase event ‘Pioneers 09’, which is being held on Wednesday March 4 2009 at the Olympia Conference Centre in London.

Click here for full story

The exhibit publicises the work of an EPSRC-funded feasibility study being led by Steve Benford, Professor of Collaborative Computing and head of the School of Computer Science at The University of Nottingham.


Wireless biosensors will gather and transmit continuous data, including the rider’s heart rate, supplemented by close-up video shots of facial expressions supplied by a helmet-mounted camera.


With all this information displayed on a large plasma screen, visitors will be able to speed up or slow down the ride, and increase or decrease the force of its movements, according to what they see.


The University of Nottingham feasibility study is examining whether fairground rides might be able to automatically adjust the thrill level they deliver, moment by moment, depending on the excitement, boredom, fear and other reactions experienced by people using them.


Professor Benford said: “If we can establish that biodata gathered on a ride closely correlates with the way a person actually feels, it could open up huge opportunities for future ride design. Biodata could be used to influence how a ride behaves, leading to improved rider experience.”


Extensive data, gathered in collaboration with Thrill Laboratory on rides at Alton Towers (both are partners in the study), is now being analysed to explore the link between biodata and emotions.


The key will be to see whether the data allows physiologically similar but emotionally opposite feelings, such as excitement and fear, to be differentiated.


If they can, the rides of tomorrow could use wireless sensors to capture biodata from a rider and then, based on this information, automatically take action to increase or decrease the ride’s intensity and so enhance the rider’s enjoyment.


Yet another possibility is to display biodata, in real-time, close to a ride, enhancing spectators’ enjoyment by giving them a better sense of what riders are actually experiencing. 


Professor Benford said: “Fairground rides are a key part of the economically crucial leisure industry. Enabling rides to deliver even higher levels of customer satisfaction in future could play an important role in ensuring the industry’s ongoing health.


"It’s still very early days but the knowledge we’re generating could potentially feed into ride design within three to five years. ‘Adaptive’ rides that respond to riders’ emotions might emerge in around 10 years. We’re already talking with a major developer of advanced fairground ride systems.”


Conceivably, improved understanding of emotional responses to fairground rides and the way these responses manifest themselves physiologically could be applied elsewhere in the entertainment sector, as well as in fields such as healthcare, childcare and crime prevention.


According to Professor Benford, fairground rides of the future might incorporate individual ‘pods’ where the emotions of people inside are monitored. The pods could then increase or reduce the ride’s ‘thrill factor’ as appropriate. Similarly, personal recommendation systems could advise people on which rides to try out, using their previous physiological responses as a guide.


The giant egg ride, operated by Thrill Laboratory, will include safety controls to ensure the rider’s safety at all times.


‘Pioneers 09’ is a free science event aimed at bringing together forward-thinking researchers and business people. It is being organised by EPSRC and supported by the Confederation of British Industry. To register to attend, please visit


— Ends —


Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.


The University 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), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £740 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC:


Additional information: A photo is available at:

Story credits

  More information is available from Professor Steve Benford on +44 (0)115 951 4203,; or Jane Reck in the EPSRC Press Office on +44 (0) 1793 44312,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798