Futuroscope debuts ‘augmented reality’
“Interactive” dark rides have become all the rage in recent years, yet in all but a few cases the interaction on the part of the rider extends to little more than shooting laser beams at targets. Not so at Futuroscope…
This April the pioneering science and discovery park near Poitiers, France, introduced Les Animaux du Futur. This “ground-breaking interactive safari” allows guests to interact with imaginary 3D creatures via the use of “augmented reality” technology, and forms the highlight of The Future is Wild.
The attraction makes an important contribution to the debate on climate change, ecology, bio-diversity and evolution and encourages the audience to think how the world may look in millions of years’ time. Guests begin their journey with a short pre-show where Jamy Gourmaud explains the evolution of Planet Earth, highlighting future animal species including a rattle-back rodent coated in scales, a whale/seabird hybrid with a massive 10ft wingspan (see pic below) or the little poggle with its thick coat of fur.
As passengers take their seats for the safari, they are equipped with sensor bracelets and a pair of augmented reality binoculars by Total Immersion, the French firm responsible for much of the cutting edge technology inside the attraction. The “trackless” ride vehicles, by ETF of the Netherlands, pass through four imagined future environments – a desert, swamp valley, global ocean and tropical rainforest – representing life on earth 5 million, 100 million or 200 million years into the future.
In each of these scenes, guests can see imaginary animals from the era in question through their binoculars and then reach out and interact with them as they spring to life. In one sequence, for example, a bird can be seen hatching in the rider’s hand. Each passenger’s position is tracked by the onboard software so that they can communicate and play with the creatures in real time.
This dark ride with a twist represents the first use of augmented reality in an entertainment environment. Developed originally for military and scientific applications, the technology enhances the real world but does not replace it.
A camera integrated into riders’ binoculars films the scene in front of them and then adds the 3D elements on top. The filmed sequence combined with the computer-generated virtual creatures are immediately transmitted back onto the binoculars lenses, giving guests the vivid impression that they are watching real-life action. A motion sensor then lets them interact with what they see.
“This ground-breaking process allows us to unite the real world and the virtual world and immerse viewers in totally new experiences,” highlights a Futuroscope spokesperson. “We move from being spectators to participants, interacting directly in real time. Viewers are unable to distinguish between real and virtual objects.”
ETF supplied a total of seven 3-car/4-seater trains for the ride, guided by a single discreet rail through which the power supply also runs. The spacious ride vehicles also allow room for a wheelchair. Riders sit inline sideways in relation to the direction of travel so that they are always facing the scenes in front of them.
“The difficulty with this project,” explains ETF president Ruud Koppens, “was that the central control system has to be continuously aware of the position of the train at all times so that it can present a realistic 3D view to the passengers, no matter their position. With the help of new software and wireless communication, we were able to solve this and achieve a synchronisation of plus or minus 1cm!”
At the end of the safari experience, riders disembark and are free to explore a 700 square metre set, this time sans binoculars. Designed by the French museum of natural history, this post-show areas features animatronic animals of the future alongside the fossilised remains of creatures past and present.