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Six Flags to Offer Virtual Reality on Roller Coaster Rides

by Alexandra Gibbs, CNBC / / Source:

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Good news, thrill-seekers! Amusement park giant Six Flags is adding virtual reality (VR) technology to a selection of its roller coasters in 2016, thanks to a new partnership with Samsung.

When passengers venture onto some of Six Flags' most popular rides, they will be kitted out with Samsung Gear VR headsets, so they can feel the "heart-pumping adrenaline" of twists, turns and steep drops, which will work in tune with each ride's sensors, gyros and accelerometers. Users will still physically be on a roller coaster as usual, but the headsets will add extra sensory experiences.

Samsung and Six Flags will launch these new VR roller coasters as soon as this month, with season pass owners in Arlington, Texas getting a preview of "Shock Wave" as early as March 10.

Nine rides will receive a VR makeover, with six roller coasters getting the "new revolution virtual reality" experience, and three having a "Superman virtual reality". All rides will have an age limit of 13 years and above, when using the headsets.

On the new revolution rides, adrenaline junkies will be transported to a "futuristic battle to save planet earth from an alien invasion", while the Superman roller coasters expect to take individuals on an action-packed "360-degree comic-book world" tour of Metropolis.

"This remarkable technology is a definite game-changer for theme park rides and represents everything our brand stands for - delivering the most thrilling and innovative rides," said John Duffey, Six Flags President and CEO, in a statement.

Six Flags plans on introducing more than double the number of rides and roller coasters that it did in 2015, and according to media websiteMashable, is considering expanding the VR experience to more coasters in the future.

In a recent Mintel "European consumer trends" report, the market research firm saw virtual reality as a popular trend for 2016, adding that as interest grows, businesses will be inspired to embrace the technology.

"Once limited to science fiction novels and films, virtual reality devices are now a commonplace sight in everyday life," Catherine Cottney, trends manager for Europe at Mintel, told CNBC via email, adding that as virtual reality tech becomes more affordable, it's likely to spring up across various sectors.

"Brands have an opportunity to educate consumers about these devices… not only will this help get people familiar with this new technology, but it will boost engagement too."

Meanwhile, George O'Connor, technology analyst at Panmure Gordon, told CNBC via email that we should see VR as being adjunct to technologies like artificial intelligence and big data. "We can see a shift in how people 'communicate' (and embrace) with the technology," he said.

O'Connor added that the immersive experience itself is one of VR's key drivers, and that society should celebrate its use at theme parks, as "pushing the boundaries is all part of the human condition."

While this may seem like a world first, Six Flags wasn't the first theme park to announce it was incorporating VR into its rides.

In January, a Merlin Entertainments-owned park, Alton Towers, announced it was to open a space-themed virtual reality roller coaster named "Galactica" this April, in which passengers wear VR headsets.

Thorpe Park, another Merlin theme park is testing new limits, opening a "multi-sensory" attraction named "Ghost Train" this Spring, designed by TV illusionist Derren Brown.

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