All the fun of the fair

All the fun of the fair

PA 55/09

Scientists from The University of Nottingham will bring the thrill of the fairground ride to a major science event in London. Visitors will have a unique opportunity to control a fairground attraction and alter the level of thrill it provides.

By controlling the ride — a bucking bronco-style giant egg — they will be able to base their decisions on exactly how a performer riding the egg is feeling from moment to moment.

The exhibit will be one of the main attractions at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) showcase event ‘Pioneers 09’, which is being held on Wednesday March 4 2009 at the Olympia Conference Centre in London.

The exhibit publicises the work of an EPSRC-funded feasibility study being led by Steve Benford, Professor of Collaborative Computing and head of the School of Computer Science at The University of Nottingham.

Wireless biosensors will gather and transmit continuous data, including the rider’s heart rate, supplemented by close-up video shots of facial expressions supplied by a helmet-mounted camera.

With all this information displayed on a large plasma screen, visitors will be able to speed up or slow down the ride, and increase or decrease the force of its movements, according to what they see.

The University of Nottingham feasibility study is examining whether fairground rides might be able to automatically adjust the thrill level they deliver, moment by moment, depending on the excitement, boredom, fear and other reactions experienced by people using them.

Professor Benford said: “If we can establish that biodata gathered on a ride closely correlates with the way a person actually feels, it could open up huge opportunities for future ride design. Biodata could be used to influence how a ride behaves, leading to improved rider experience.”

Extensive data, gathered in collaboration with Thrill Laboratory on rides at Alton Towers (both are partners in the study), is now being analysed to explore the link between biodata and emotions.

The key will be to see whether the data allows physiologically similar but emotionally opposite feelings, such as excitement and fear, to be differentiated.

If they can, the rides of tomorrow could use wireless sensors to capture biodata from a rider and then, based on this information, automatically take action to increase or decrease the ride’s intensity and so enhance the rider’s enjoyment.

Yet another possibility is to display biodata, in real-time, close to a ride, enhancing spectators’ enjoyment by giving them a better sense of what riders are actually experiencing.

Professor Benford said: “Fairground rides are a key part of the economically crucial leisure industry. Enabling rides to deliver even higher levels of customer satisfaction in future could play an important role in ensuring the industry’s ongoing health.

"It’s still very early days but the knowledge we’re generating could potentially feed into ride design within three to five years. ‘Adaptive’ rides that respond to riders’ emotions might emerge in around 10 years. We’re already talking with a major developer of advanced fairground ride systems.”

Conceivably, improved understanding of emotional responses to fairground rides and the way these responses manifest themselves physiologically could be applied elsewhere in the entertainment sector, as well as in fields such as healthcare, childcare and crime prevention.

According to Professor Benford, fairground rides of the future might incorporate individual ‘pods’ where the emotions of people inside are monitored. The pods could then increase or reduce the ride’s ‘thrill factor’ as appropriate. Similarly, personal recommendation systems could advise people on which rides to try out, using their previous physiological responses as a guide.

The giant egg ride, operated by Thrill Laboratory, will include safety controls to ensure the rider’s safety at all times.

‘Pioneers 09’ is a free science event aimed at bringing together forward-thinking researchers and business people. It is being organised by EPSRC and supported by the Confederation of British Industry. To register to attend, please visit

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