Tap to read full stIf you’re at all like us…and we suspect you are…you skipped attending the last Disney stockholders meeting. Somewhat boring, we have to admit.
You also missed recent happenings at the world’s largest shopping mall.
Boring….unless you absolutely adore exploring hundreds of places to buy things.
But you might want to pay attention to both of those.
Because they offered a look into the future.
People are experiencing rides like never before.
This all might be of interest to future Disney World Orlando ticket buyers. But let’s not leave out Universal Studios Orlando ticket buyers or anyone else interested in the future of theme parks anywhere else.
More specifically, we refer to the future of VR at theme parks.
In case you missed it, VR is short for virtual reality.
That was not a subject directly addressed by Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger at their stockholders meeting.
He did talk a little about the coming attraction “Star Wars.”
Virtual Reality is expected to be a star attraction there.
But his remarks generally were more about new Disney Cruise Line ships,
Two more new ships on the way.
One area of technology he commented on:
The future of MyMagic+.
No surprise that it was successful.
More applications are expected.
In a very much separate event, the Mall of America also was looking to the future.
Its flight simulator is being described as a “ride like no other.”
That mall in far away and often frigid Minnesota is the nation’s largest shopping and entertainment destination.
It’s “Fly Over America” ride lets you sit in a suspended chair, feet dangling free, in front of a gigantic screen.
Rides are not the only new thing
You literally fly over America.
While this is described by mall people as “awe-inspiring,” it is hardly new at Disney and other theme parks.
You, the riders, feel the wind. You travel through misty vistas. Smell the flowers.
You soar. Just as you do at Epcot’s own version.
Plunging into deep valleys. Seeing rushing rivers. Snow-capped mountains.
Coast to coast in the US.
It’s a VR journey of more than 10,000 miles.
Without getting into a car or airplane or anything else.
While sitting in a comfortable chair.
It’s not new but it is what virtual reality is all about.
From theme parks rides to video games -- numerous applications of VR were given at a recent tech conference.
Mary Jesse, chief strategy officer of VRstudios in Bellevue, said the tech industry is in the middle of a big change.
She predicts that the projections experts are making about virtual reality are underestimating what will actually happen.
She suggested that the same thing happened when mobile phones first became popular.
"You will see virtual reality everywhere," she said.
This was the year for virtual reality.
VR’s time has come
Earlier this year, a newspaper wrote:
“The New Revolution will go boldly where no roller coaster in Los Angeles has gone before: into the realm of virtual reality.”
It was referring to Samsung’s partnership to pair its VR with technology with several roller coasters at Six Flags.
“The goal is to transport users, who will wear a virtual reality headset while they're strapped into the stomach-churning coaster, to another world,” the newspaper said.
What this effectively does: merge roller coaster action and movement baked into an entire experience.
If you wonder where this is happening, and why, we have some answers.
The why is that it can.
Can be done, we mean.
Or now it can. Due to new technology. Advances in technology, we mean.
This may be a surprise to some.
No longer just fun and games
We associate it with games. The gaming world.
But in reality, it is graduating from the gaming world.
Into travel, movies, live events. And theme parks.
And based on current consumer interests, gaming is actually at the bottom of the list.
Internet-connected headsets are expanding in the IoT world as technology finally catches up with the promise of virtual reality, which has been kicking around for years.
Consumers do like it, studies show.
Of consumers who have used virtual reality, 86% rate their experience as positive.
They say they are highly likely to try it again, based on a new study
Virtual reality or VR is coming to all phases of our lives.
The sales of VR devices worldwide are expected to increase by 24 times in 2016.
This is creating opportunities for consumer, gaming, entertainment and business applications providers to ride this wave, said the International Data Corp, a US-based IT research firm.
VR has “infinite opportunities.”
Disney has long been a pioneer in virtual reality.
Its IT and interactive media arm, Disney Interactive, this year launched its first VR software. It’s called Disney Movies VR.
The app itself does not allow you to watch full-length Disney films. But instead shows you how to select scenes from more recent Disney releases such as “Star Wars” and “The Jungle Book.”
Here’s the official description from Disney:
Disney pioneered VR
“Transport yourself into the wonderful world of Disney from your very own living room with Disney Movies VR. This app is a fully-immersive experience where you visit themed worlds, including Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm, and interact with some of your favorite characters in their natural environments. Choose from multiple scenes in Disney movies, including The Jungle Book, Captain America and Star Wars and be a part of the action! Disney Movies VR is your ticket to full immersion into the many Disney experiences optimized for virtual reality. Brought to you by the imaginative minds at Disney.”
Predictions are it will become the most influential technology in the next decade after micro-processors, personal computers and mobile Internet.
In fact, predictions are it is leaving the so-called limited “niche market” to branch out into widespread consumer usage.
Games and films are among its best applications.
And theme parks are not far behind.
This is not just our opinion.
Changing the nature of theme parks
Virtual reality and augmented reality will one day change the very concept of a theme park and attractions, according to Tony Christopher, CEO and founder of Landmark Entertainment Group.
Major companies such as Facebook and Google have led the way.
A recent example is Shanghai.
Disney’s first theme park in mainland China is divided into six lands:
‘Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, Tomorrowland, Gardens of Imagination, Adventure Isle,” and “Mickey Avenue.”
Towering 196.8 feet above Fantasyland is the park’s Enchanted Storybook Castle, which includes retail, dining, and theatrical spaces, as well as two attractions.
It’s home to “Once Upon a Time,” an indoor, walk-through exhibit of all the Disney Princesses that blends dioramas with screens displaying classic Disney animation.
There are various elements of VR everywhere.
But the most dramatic and perhaps most popular is the TRON Lightcycle Power Run.
Riders enter the neon blue-glowing world of TRON and board a train of two-wheeled Lightcycles.
You, the riders, hunch forward as if you’re piloting the speedy bikes.
There’s a brief stretch outdoors.
But then the ride immerses you the riders inside at speeds of 62 miles-per-hour. You race to capture eight energy gates.
Another company known for its VR besides Disney is Landmark.
It’s perhaps best known for creating Universal Studios theme park attractions like “Kongfrontation, Terminator 2 3D, and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 5D.”
All have a lot in common.
Using tech to improve thrill rides
They use the latest technology to improve immersive thrill ride experiences.
Landmark executives say they have long been exploring how virtual reality and augmented reality can be added to traditional entertainment like 3D, projection, surround sound, and special effects.
“We’re already thinking about how VR and alternate reality can create the theme park of the future,” one executive says.
“We spend a lot of time creating environments and characters and today we have to use light systems, projection systems, and animatronics and ultimately it doesn’t create a true virtual reality.”
“With the Spider-Man 5D ride you couldn’t tell the reality from the 3D film and Spider-Man does fly over your head and land on your vehicle. In VR we could put it all in a headset and people could ride through and the buildings could be smaller and you could feel like you’re there. With VR we could put you on a real adventure like you’ve never seen before.”
Shanghai represents the new technology. And that is coming to Disney’s other properties as well as other theme parks.
“Disney’s new park relies on technology the company hopes will augment all its parks,” writes Time Magazine.
A VR oriented style, 3D model-based process of designing everything from the Steamboat Willie entrance fountain to Roarin Mountain. Imagineers is represented in Shanghai.
Disney Imagineers working in Orlando, California and Shanghai were able in separate areas to work with projectors and 3D glasses to experiment how guests would experience rides and other attractions.
For its creators, Disney and Universal here in Orlando are hardly the only parks seeing a rise in VR.
Seeing VR at Six Flags’ coasters
The increasingly competitive Six Flags chain of theme parks is equipping its rollercoasters with virtual reality headsets.
What they do: let you imagine or pretend you’re flying with Superman.
Or fighting aliens.
No secret here when you ask why this is happening.
The cost has gone way down.
From a practical standpoint, executives there say they are embracing the potential of VR largely because of its reduced cost.
From riders’ standpoint, it allows them to see things flown at them in virtual reality.
The technology reduces a lot of labor costs that used to involve human beings.
But that’s only the beginning as VR technology starts to let you, the rider, choose alternatives of what you want to face. Or see.
Six Flags isn’t the only theme park company adding a virtual element to existing rides.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year that about two dozen virtual reality roller coasters were expected to be ready by this summer at locations around the world.
If you’ve been in Orlando recently, you’re starting to see it.
Seeing it in Orlando
Visitors to Universal Orlando recently lined up for the debut of one of their most anticipated rides ever: Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
The 30-foot-tall, 18-foot-wide Kong is brought to life by 3-D technology and animatronics.
Earlier this summer, SeaWorld Orlando’s shark-themed Mako started to dazzle riders with its 73 mile an hour speeds during a mile long tract.
Its own VR style makes it a hypercoaster. Which means not just speed, but tight turns.
But even more: a weightless feeling.
Disney has its own Norway Pavilion at Epcot.
A boat takes riders into the kingdom of “Arendelle” during the winter festival, where you encounter characters from the megahit “Frozen.” Music is from the movie, with voices from the original cast.
At Universal Studios Hollywood, 3-D technology is evident in rides like “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.”
Here’s a spoiler alert:
For some other rides, you will need to go outside Orlando.
Seeing it outside Orlando
At Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, “The Joker,” a hybrid steel and wooden coaster is yet another example of a hypercoaster. If you dare to ride it, you will have 15 different moments of “airtime.”
Legoland California in Carlsbad joined the interactive fray when it debuted Ninjago last May.
This has taken VR to its next level:
Riders actually influence the outcome of the battle by using hand gestures to shoot, rather than laser guns, to help fight off evil during the experience.
If all this VR gets to you, you can always unwind with alternatives.
Disney offers a “Wishing Star Park,” for example. It is described as a 2.5 mile walk in the woods. Along a lake with birds and butterflies.
It’s described this way:
“You’re sure to find a setting which will bring your inner child to live –as only Disney can.”
The only thing is you have to go to Disney’s Shanghai to find it. ###