Technology Rides the Wave
Just as technologies like trackless ride systems, advanced projection displays, cutting-edge animatronics, and virtual reality (VR) have revolutionized attractions of all sizes in recent years, advanced systems are now surfacing at water parks.
“Every supplier has put some incredible products on the market over the last couple of years,” says Dr. Stephan Spiller, head of branch office—water rides, for wiegand.waterrides GmbH in Starnberg, Germany. He says he believes water slides that propel, slides equipped with VR, increases in capacity using large group rafts, and the introduction of theming on water slides is “a huge advancement for the industry and ultimately for the guests’ water park experience.”
Yet, keeping new technologies working (while keeping systems impermeable to water) is a lesson in design, engineering, and cooperation.
Innovation Rooted in Collaboration
wiegand.waterrides creates slides and other attractions for outdoor and indoor water parks and cruise ships. The manufacturer’s Slide Coaster is a new hybrid roller coaster and water slide, featuring a linear synchronous motor (LSM) launch system that accelerates rafts to a speed of 50 kph. In addition, the company says its VR Waterslide is one of the world’s first virtual reality-enhanced slides. Spiller asserts collaboration is the key to innovation. His company often turns to firms that are experts in certain technologies.
“We have a great team when it comes to thinking out of the box and using these new possibilities in water attractions,” Spiller says. In order to innovate, wiegand.waterrides will regularly partner with other manufacturers, like Ballast VR, Chairkit, or Gerstlauer Amusement Rides to bring new rides to market, he says.
Jasper Grootveld, operational director for Van Egdom B.V. in Utrecht, Netherlands—maker of rides, slides, and play attractions for water parks—affirms that teaming up with other companies can be crucial to creating new high-tech attractions.
“Van Egdom has its own production facilities and partners (with other manufacturers), like iSlide, who specialize in interactive technology for water slides,” he says. “This combination is able to make almost every effect in a water slide that you can think of.”
iSlide innovates, designs, and produces digital sound and light technologies for both new and existing water slides that are ready for a refresh. Enhancements include allowing a guest to select a theme on a waterproof touch screen. After a traffic light counts down to the launch, the guest is immersed in a world where sound, light, and video projections illuminate a tunnel slide, contributing to one unified ride experience.
High-tech attractions often involve sophisticated mechanical systems and electronics. Add in the damp nature of a water park, and a whole new set of challenges arises. For components that are constantly soaked, water can wreak havoc.
“There are challenges to implement fragile technological equipment under such rough conditions, especially in indoor parks, with their concentrated chlorine environments and high humidity,” says Spiller. “The seawater and strong winds on cruise ships are particularly demanding for electronics.”
However, he notes that the quality and durability of sensors, control systems, and lighting effects have improved significantly over the past decade, and this enables wiegand.waterrides and others to incorporate more reliable tracking systems, VR goggles, and moving slide parts into their water rides.
Two other crucial ingredients to success with high-tech water park attractions are experience and testing—and then, even more testing.
Grootveld suggests water park owners and operators do their research and go with a technology partner whose equipment is known to survive extreme temperatures, humidity, and chlorine, and whose products have stood up to rigorous testing. This, he says, will ensure “a high-quality standard.”
Better equipment can protect operators from repairs that may wind up draining their maintenance budgets and lead to operational downtime while replacement parts are sourced and installed. How can water park operators protect their investment? Ironically, wiegand.waterrides believes a key factor is simplicity.
“When we start the development of a new product, it does not usually take long before someone in the team asks this exact question,” says Spiller. “After all, we want to achieve a reliable and easy-to-operate product. But wherever we see a possibility to simplify a process or piece of equipment, we give our best to improve it accordingly.”
Spiller says oftentimes, at the end of a development process, the design team will look back at initial drafts and sketches and are surprised how much simpler the product became along the way.
There’s one way technology itself is actually contributing to the reliability and maintenance process too, and that’s in providing constant connectivity to attractions to monitor and diagnose any issues.
“iSlide products are also connected to its head office via secure online connections. This allows remote monitoring, upgrading, and troubleshooting,” Grootveld says.
He adds that manufacturers and suppliers offer maintenance plans to water parks, while their service technicians perform regular on-site upkeep of high-tech attractions, thus keeping the systems functioning at a reliable level for years.
As designers, manufacturers, and water parks themselves learn how to enable these high-tech attractions to operate while getting soaked in a wet environment, it stands to reason that more dazzling and sophisticated experiences are on the horizon.
“Every time someone says we have seen everything new, another person comes up with something completely different and novel,” says Spiller. “Thus, we are convinced there’s a lot more to come. Currently, we see a trend of water parks catching up to theme parks with regards to theming. This is definitely very exciting and opens up a huge potential of individual park design, ride implementation, light effects, and show themes.”
He observes that wiegand.waterrides already has some new high-tech attractions in the pipeline, like its Slide Coaster, which is currently in the prototype phase.
Also, he says the company’s SlideWash system (now in development) will effortlessly clean water slides and dry slides in a semi-automated and safe manner. He hints there are other exciting developments at the company. “We have a lot of ideas yet to be realized,” Spiller teases.
At Van Egdom, Grootveld says the firm watches technology developments closely.
“In the next few years, we believe water parks will tickle all the senses of their visitors, using new methods like VR goggles inside the water slide. Therefore, we are keeping a keen eye on the latest technological inventions.”
Contact Funworld News Editor Keith Miller at [email protected].