The German waterpark lets riders strap on a waterproof VR headset.
From VR roller coaster rides at Sea World to shooting yourself out of a cannon, we’ve seen a range of exhilarating ways VR can bring theme park rides into the future. Now one startup is taking water slides to the next level with submersible VR headsets.
Ballast, a Silicon Valley startup focused on aquatic-based VR experiences, has installed a VR Slide system at Galaxy Erding, Europe’s largest indoor and outdoor water park. Thanks to custom designed waterproof VR headsets housing Samsung S8 mobile devices, over 9,600 attendees have gone down the VR slide since opening in February.
Guests can select between two VR experiences. A space themed “Galaxy” experience sends you through a magic portal into an alien world. A more playful VR experience titled “Sky World,” lets you follow a trail of butterflies around floating islands.
The official opening date for VRSlide began March 12th and the park has been charging €2 per ride.
What Ballast has created isn’t easy. Unlike VR roller coasters that run at set predictable speeds, the biggest challenge for VR on waterslides is that every user slides at a different speed. “We had to develop a reliable tracking system that can measure where riders are on the slide to prevent motion sickness,” said Ballast CEO Stephen Greenwood in an interview with VRScout. “Building the tracking system was a great technological achievement spearheaded by my co-founder, Ando Shah – with software development being led by our other co-founder, Atlas Roufas and developer Serhii Yolkin.”
The VR water slide tracking system employs two methods – one using ultrasound beacons placed along the slide, which communicate to the headset as it passes. The second is a machine learning powered system that analyzes the accelerometer data of every rider as they ride. The VR experiences are rendered in real-time inside Unity, so the tracking system can adapt to each user’s speed in real time.
According to Greenwood, development took about 6 months, letting them prove the reliability of their tracking system in the first 10 weeks and productizing the experience for another 14 weeks
The VRSlide is planned to run indefinitely at the moment. The operating schedule changes for weekdays, weekends and holidays – but the system runs between 4 and 8 hours a day on a slide ride called Space Glider, which features two uphill segments that use water to blast and propel riders up inclines on the slide.
Ballast’s VR water slide is a unique system that looks entertaining as hell. And the hardware and software that the startup has created definitely takes VR waterslide users on the ride of their life. I’m sure this is only the beginning of what we can expect from submerged immersive technology in the future.
Image Credit: Ballast