WIRED travelled to Alton Towers in Staffordshire to take a ride on Galactica, the world’s first rollercoaster fully-dedicated to virtual reality.
There’s not a great deal to see as you walk up to Galactica at Alton Towers. Decorative flourishes are kept to a minimum, which is perhaps not a surprise on a ride where all the thrills take place in a virtual world. Once inside, a giant portal-like ring, which constantly emits clouds of vapour, seems to be the biggest prop on show.
Galactica, which opens to the general public on 24 March, has each rider don a Samsung Gear VR headset as they step into the physical rollercoaster at the amusement park. What then follows is a VR experience in space guided by an “on-board artificial intelligence” that transports you from a space station launch pad up into the heavens.
The VR footage is exactly matched by the twists and turns and loops you physically feel as you hurtle around the rollercoaster in real life. This makes for a far more immersive trip than if you were sat in a chair in your living room.
After leaving the space station, the ride flies alongside spacecraft and jumps through Stargate-type portals to distant planets covered in volcanoes, lava and ice volcanic, before returning (all too quickly) to the space station.
WIRED shot through the 840-metre long (2,760 ft) track in a mere 189 seconds – so be prepared to find the ride over almost as soon as it has begun. The maximum g-force you endure on Galactica is 3.5Gs, while the fastest segment hits 75km/h. Alton Towers says it will accommodate 28 passengers on each run, and churn through up to 1,500 people an hour.
Other rollercoasters have used elements of VR before, but this is the first ride where it has been designed from conception to be used for the entire journey. One added benefit of a VR rollercoaster? Those at the front no longer have the best seats – everyone on the ride has an unobstructed, virtual view.