A Day in The Park

Themepark montageTourism is the UK’s sixth largest industry, ahead of agriculture, financial services and transport.
The theme of Creative Visiting offers the opportunity to explore how the experience of visiting can be re-invented for the 21st century.

Working alongside our partners within the leisure and tourism sector, Horizon’s challenge is to move beyond current conceptions of tourism by exploiting digital technology to enrich the entire visiting experience, blending on-line activities with augmented physical sites to allow creative connections between visitors and residents, and current and past events.

The amusement park offers a microcosm for Horizon research. Tens of thousands of visitors each day stream into a park, navigate its various attractions, experience many forms of high-tech entertainment and take home recordings and souvenirs of their experiences.

The Day in the Park research allowed us to engage key industry partners in order to explore how the concept of a contextual footprint, that included biosensing data gathered from riders, can underpin future digital economy services.

The research particularly focused on two areas:

  • Supporting new forms of souvenirs and storytelling
  • The development of personalised and adaptive entertainment experiences

This involved mining data captured from a previous EPSRC Digital Economy feasibility study, conducting sensitising ethnographic studies at the park, staging two workshops to explore new ride experiences and forms of souvenir, and finally conducting two public trials of an adaptive experience and a prototype souvenir system at Alton Towers in the summer of 2010.


Automics_AnnotationsUseAs part of our research into new forms of souvenirs and storytelling, we worked with partners; Alton Towers and Picsolve to investigate souvenir creation and the use of digital media when visiting a theme park.

Current digital technology within a theme park allows visitors to capture their experience in the form of on-ride photographs and videos as a memento of their day. Horizon’s challenge was to research the visitor experience and develop a new souvenir service from the research findings.

The result was Automics, a photo-souvenir service which utilises mobile devices to support the capture, sharing and annotation of digital images amongst groups of visitors. It combines both individual and group photographs with the existing in-park, on-ride photo services to allow users to create printed photo-stories with speech and thought bubbles incorporated to enable personalisation.

The research explored the interaction between visitors, smart phones and the theme parks’ systems to create a new personalised souvenir service which could effectively be offered as a tool to the commercial world.


Broncomatic for webAs part of our research into adaptive thrill rides, we have automated a mechanical Bucking Bronco ride, adding computer control to it. This allows us to quickly create small scale rides which adapt themselves to physiological data or anything else which a computer can sense. We call this computer controlled bronco the ‘Broncomatic’.

In our first experiments trialling the Broncomatic, the bronco speeds up and slows down in response to the rider’s breathing rate.


The Gas Mask: A probe for exploring fearsome interactions

Following on from the Broncomatic adaptive thrill ride, we further explored breath controlled entertainment systems and the users’ awareness of breathing, by introducing a horror themed experience based on integrating breath sensors and WIFI in to gas masks.

We used the gas masks in three areas:

  • A control mechanism for an interactive ride
  • To enhance a theme park horror maze
  • To create a breath-controlled interactive video game

Breathless: An interactive ride

_MG_3565Breathless is an interactive ride which uses gas masks with respiration monitors to control a large powered swing, pulling it backwards when the rider inhales and forwards on exhalation.

The overall ride experience was inspired by the painting ‘The Swing’, by Jean-Honore Fragonard. (insert pic)

The painting reportedly depicts an erotic scene involving three people; a woman riding the swing, a voyeur watching the woman and a bishop controlling the swing.

In Breathless participants assumed all three roles in turn: Voyeur, rider and controller.

Hyperventilation: Gas Masks at Saw Alive, a theme park horror maze

IMG_5183The Saw Alive maze at Thorpe Park is a modern day house of horrors, with rooms themed around scenes from the movie. We took our gas masks and respiration monitors and put them on willing participants to measure how they would affect people’s fear whilst in this already very intense situation.

PerPing: breath controlled video tennis

PERPING_1We developed a computer game based on the classic arcade video game Pong. Each gas-mask-clad opponent controlled their bat through: breathing in (bat up) and breathing out (bat down). An increase in breathing rate increased bat size. Hyperventilation was rewarded with extra balls being added into the game. PerPing was created for the Cheltenham Science Festival 2011.

Partner: Alton Towers, Robocoaster, Picsolve, Aerial, Broadway Media Centre