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Theme Park of the Future: A look at technology trends driving the industry to new heights

by Matt Roseboom

Riders on Kraken Unleashed at SeaWorld Orlando, wearing VR headsets.

By Dan Maunder, CTO, Picsolve

As technology advances at break-neck speed, consumers are demanding seamless digital experiences in all aspects of their lives. Millennials, now the largest living generation in the U.S., are digital natives who have grown up in a world of smartphones, social media and the internet, but consumers of all ages live in a connected world with content instantly available at their fingertips.

Technology developments have reset customer expectations and forced all businesses, especially those within the entertainment and leisure industry, to respond by becoming technologically disruptive. As consumers demand bigger and better thrills, and rides reach the physical limits of possibility, theme parks are using technology to fully encompass and enhance customer experience while capturing responses in a non-intrusive way to make further improvements. Smartphones and wearables are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the technologies that will be used in the theme park of the future.

Technology developments that will create immersive experiences
One of the main trends we’ll see within theme parks in the future, is the use of technology to create immersive experiences. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will advance to the point that it is able to converse with visitors and combine its understanding with technologies such as Virtual Reality. It will then tailor the attraction to the needs of the consumer at specific points throughout their journey.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will also be used as standalone technologies to further the immersive experience. Six Flags now uses VR in multiple parks across the U.S. and last year Alton Towers launched the world’s first fully dedicated VR rollercoaster, Galactica.

However, for some industry leaders, VR isn’t the silver bullet. Disney’s CEO Bob Iger has publicly shunned VR headsets, suggesting they block visitors’ view from reality and place them inside a fake digital world. Instead he’s betting on the virtues of augmented reality. Equally, the CEO and founder of Landmark Entertainment Group, Tony Christopher, believes in combining the two, with the company said to be launching a “mixed reality” entertainment destination in China within the next year.

Despite conflicting opinion, our research suggests consumers demand the technology, with 94 percent admitting they would be more likely to visit a theme park if VR were included and 48 percent having had a better time when experiencing lasers, 3D holograms and VR at destinations. With Landmark Entertainment predicting that there will be 170 million active VR users by 2018, we expect to see further development and integration of these technologies within theme parks, ensuring they sync perfectly with rides and create a fully immersive experience that truly wows the consumer.

Imaging technology, VR and queue-line entertainment
It isn’t just rides that consumers want to see incorporating VR. Our research shows that 95 percent would appreciate using VR to browse photography once the ride has finished. Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park in the U.K. uses this technology to create an immersive experience to manipulate the human mind. It also features hidden, integrated, photography points in the build-up to the ride, creating a sense of anticipation and surprising riders at the end of the experience with images they didn’t know were captured.

In light of the popularity and success of an attraction like this, theme parks of the future will increasingly incorporate fully integrated photography opportunities within rides, adding to guests’ enjoyment from the moment they join the line to the point they leave. The ambience, energy and excitement of an attraction will be reflected at every touch point, including when viewing and purchasing merchandise. We’re seeing industry leaders turn to experts like us to create themed imaging opportunities. This not only enhances the experience, but also offers additional revenue opportunities, capturing one-of-a-kind images that customers want to save and share. This builds a less transactional and more emotional relationship between the visitor and the theme park.

Wearable technology paving the way for facial recognition to drive a better visitor experience
In the future, the way theme parks use wearable technology will evolve significantly to improve the consumer experience. Last year, Accesso Technology’s R&D ploughed millions into wearable technology, developing its LoQueue Prism. This device allows theme parks to schedule ride bookings in advance and reduce queue lines. The benefits to visitors, including making it much easier for them to pay for items, was quickly picked up by Disney, who has reportedly invested $1 billion in its sensor and tracking technology MagicBand. Currently, just as VR creates immersive experiences, wearable devices facilitate a connected one. In fact, our research showed this to be true for 82 percent of consumers.

However, the technology is still in its infancy and there will be many circumstances where the customer experience isn’t as seamless as initially intended. In the years to come, we expect to see other technologies coming to fore to truly delight the consumer. For example, intelligent facial and clothing recognition will be used by theme parks to detect individuals and capture their image. This will then give them instant access to all the digital content captured, allowing customers to share it instantly with whoever they want, wherever they are. This is a technology which we will be investigating in the coming years.

The future
In the coming years, the integration and development of these trends will not only ensure theme parks can exceed expectations and improve experiences, but we also expect to see the wider entertainment industry and its suppliers incorporating them to forge stronger relationships with their customers. We believe that the future holds a truly connected experience for consumers, where immersive reality, AI, intelligent motion control and advances in smart devices will allow destinations to continually surprise and delight those that come to visit. Who knows, maybe in the future, we’ll get to a stage where drones will capture key moments without interrupting the overall experience. The possibilities are endless!

Ultimately, as the industry continues to invest in technology, consumers will want to capture and share their live experiences with the world even more quickly. We’re here to make sure that’s possible.

Dan Maunder is the CTO of Picsolve, a leading digital content creation partner for world-class visitor destinations. A senior technologist and software engineering leader with extensive program and platform transformation background, Maunder has over a decade of global experience in cross-geographical software development models.

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1 comment

Jon Cheney June 25, 2017 - 7:25 pm

Six Flags is getting ready to launch (this week) an incredible AR campaign through Seek over the next month with Samsung and other partners. This article is spot on! In order to keep these parks relevant, AR and VR will pay a critical role.

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