Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fairground Thrill Laboratory

Something a little different tonight, the Science Museum in London is doing a little series of events to look at thrill rides and emotions related to them. Friends who know of my interest in amusement parks pointed this out to me in the daily paper, and as I was able to get a ticket I thought I'd go along to see what it was about.

This is the venue, around the corner from the Science Museum and the majestic looking Natural History Museum.

This was a sick bag handed to us on the way in. It doubled up as a disclaimer that we had to sign to say that we were happy to have our ugly mugs used in publicity resulting from any filming made on the night. It also included a medical questionnaire.

This is the room, much smaller and intimate than I'd expected. The room was also not full of enthusiasts, but people interested in the science of rides, or friends and relatives of the event organisers and guest speakers. The women in the white suits are looking scientist-like and carried out surveys on what you thought about thrills and pleasure, the last being the theme of tonight's speeches.

First speaker was Josie Kane, from UCL. She gave a quick presentation on how pleasure became a marketable commodity citing Coney Island and Blackpool as examples. She had some great old pictures of Blackpool to support her speech. A nice little introduction to the night's events.

The second speaker was Mike Presdee, a Director of Criminology from the University of Kent. He gave a presentation on how our Government was denying us the right to enjoy pleasure giving examples of the Criminal Justice Bill and Firework legislation. He also went on to say that a high percentage of people have a secret urge to commit arson as it challenges the system and gives a lot of pleasure to the person doing it. He also made a nice point that work isn't exciting and to live a bit, people need to do pleasurable things. Exactly my view as to why I enjoy theme parks, even if the public concensus is that they're for kids!

After a change of location to the upper laboratories, the next speaker was Metin Sezgin from Cambridge University. He gave a presentation on computer software that was able to read changes of expression in humans and from them figure out how the person was feeling. The software demonstrated has an 85% likelihood of getting it right, very clever stuff indeed. Some examples of how this could be used were given such as figuring out how a driver is doing behind the wheel of a car, but as a theme park fan it was interesting to hear how this could be used to tailor a ride to suit the individual. If they looked bored, speed the ride up! It certainly offers possibilities!

Next up was Lola Canamero from University of Hertfordshire. She gave a lengthy presentation into how to train robots to elicit human behaviour. Using basic rules and algorithms, simple robots could be trained to act in complicated ways. It wasn't clear from this presentation how this hooked into thrills but it was interesting none the less.

This chap was the guy who put the event together is Brendan Walker, and here he's demonstrating the get up that lucky people would get to wear. As well as having the lectures we had the opportunity to ride a fairground ride. A number of lucky people would get to wear this stuff that would measure forces and heart rate whilst filming them and recording their voice for posperity. The rest of us would then watch the person on the ride whilst the results were broadcast back in real time. Very interesting stuff indeed. This explained why we had to sign disclaimers. Alas on this occasion I didn't get picked but it was fun to watch the lucky people on it.

The final speaker was Dan Howland from the USA. He gave a very quick introduction into the ride we'd be riding soon, the Miami Trip. We learnt of the background of the ride and how it wasn't well received in its homeland of Holland. It was Britain that made this ride popular primarily because of the over the top visuals.

Here's one of the real time rider monitoring. The graph in the top left is pulse and the graph below shows the changes in heartrate. The 3D model in the top middle shows how the rider is moving around and the G-Forces exerted on them and screen on the right was clearly the rider through the helmet cam. We also got to hear the rider give us a commentary whilst the ride was running (when they were able to talk that is).

The rider is looking a bit scared at this point, and he's only hitting 1.8Gs. At its worst (or best depending on your outlook) it reached 2.5.

Here's the ride, the Miami Trip. This is apparently the last of these to be made so will become quite famous in the future. I've ridden loads of these before and they're quite tame rides compared to others.


At the end of the night we got to chat to the presenters and each other whilst footage of the lucky riders was broadcast. This girl was clearly loving the ride!


This is the first in 3 events. Next week is going to look at thrills and fear and will feature a ghost train. The final sessions will look at fear and excitement and feature a big centrifugal booster ride. I'm definitely going to to attend the other sessions, if only to have another outlook on the thrill ride industry.
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