Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Professor Keaney’s Xploratorium

Professor Keaney’s Xploratorium, an eclectic showcase of “augmented reality”, has opened at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. Park World explores the world’s first fun house using Total Immersion technology.

Keaney, vice-president of development at Six Flags, is the man responsible for the project. He is not a real professor, but the project carries his name. To realise the Xploratorium the US park chain teamed up with Total Immersion, the French firm whose experiences blur the line between the virtual and real world by integrating real-time interactive 3D graphics into a live video stream. Six Flags trialled a couple of smaller Total Immersion products last season on the queue lines of its Dark Knight coasters in Jackson and Gurnee, Illinois, but this is the first attraction based entirely around augmented reality (AR).

Housed inside a fanciful domed building that once served as the loading platform for the park’s Thriller coaster, Professor Keaney’s Xploratorium consists of 10 play stations and a retail outlet, a part re-invention of the traditional fun house.

The outlet provides what could be considered a peek into the future, where AR will enrich a wide range of attraction experiences. Right now it remains a unique experiment at Six Flags as the group evaluates guest reaction. On the day Park World visited this summer, attendance was moderate, but guests were actively engaged.

“The Xploratorium is a phase one experimental concept,” explains Mark Kane, park president, “that provides new experiences for our guests by offering unique, cutting-edge technology. Feedback so far has been extremely positive and we will continue to measure the response of the entire concept.”

“Professor Keaney’s Xploratorium offers a quick tour of the world of AR,” notes Bruno Uzzan, CEO and co-founder of Total Immersion. “There’s an element of delight and discovery along the way, but what really makes the attraction work is how each visitor engages with the action and becomes an integral part of the experience. That’s the common denominator across virtually every augmented reality application.”

When guests step into the Xploratorium, a high-resolution face scanning station is used to create a 3D model of their head, which is then used as a caricature throughout the attraction. Holding court is the Six Flags character Mr Six, who dances on-screen to songs selected by visitors. Soon, guests will be able to have their own face scan appear on the dancing Mr Six.

The Magic Flags Mirror, meanwhile, is a reinvention of the classic crazy mirror mounted two feet off the floor, with an LCD screen on its side. Guests pick up a flag, wave it and interact. Immersion TV is a green screen attraction that immerses participants in four different scenes, including a genie in a bottle, a cemetery and a space ship. In each case, displaying a card before a webcam triggers the experience and the resulting interaction.

The Surface Station, created in association with Kodak, allows guests to browse and customise park photos on a touchscreen desktop. At the AR Bumper Car Station (pictured below), four drivers compete with a teammate using augmented reality cars driven on a table in front of them. The goal is to collect the “six flags” scattered throughout the course while real objects can be thrown on the table at any moment, causing drivers to lose a flag if touched.

Professor Keaney’s Xploratorium also includes two attractions that don’t incorporate augmented reality, but do involve plenty of futuristic fun. Monkey See, Monkey Do is a motion capture light box that translates human’s movements into the actions of a digital monkey. If a visitor leans down with a hand close to the floor, the monkey picks up a banana; if they make a throwing motion, the monkey follows suit.

But the interactive fun doesn’t stop when families leave the park. By stopping at the Take the Magic Home retail outlet, guests can buy selected AR experiences on a USB thumb drive for use on their home computer together with a webcam.

Will such futuristic attractions find their way into other Six Flags parks? Only time will tell.

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