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When my children were little, the local grocery store had a 40-year-old mechanical pony that cost one cent to ride. The grocery put out a cup with pennies so that all children could ride. The mechanics were simple, reflecting the 1950s technology used when the pony was manufactured. The horse rocked a little up and down and moved a little forward and back. My 5-year-old thought it was great.

Simulator Motion Systems – A False Belief

My first experience with a motion system for grown-ups was Star Tours at Disneyland. Now, that was a really cool motion system. The ride was very exciting and lasted around 7 minutes. I rode it 30-40 times and loved it every time. The only thing that I could not get used to was that I felt both energized and tired after the ride. Why? My brain was full of adrenaline, and my body was tired from working hard to keep me alive.

For high end attractions, such as Disneyland or Universal Studios, motion systems are indispensable to the experience. Being a Harry Potter fan, I really like the Harry Potter rides at Universal Studios. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is especially fun, and the motion system combined with 3D video makes for a very good experience. My inner ear struggles with some of the movements, but overall I really like the ride.

Of course, the ultimate is when a high-quality motion system is coupled with high quality, large area haptic feedback devices. The best I’ve experienced is the Millennium Falcon at Disney World, you can read about it in my blog here.

Sadly, too many simulator designers fall prey to the false belief that motion is all you need. They try playing little tricks to add some haptics, like using the motion system to add shaking. The shaking doesn’t feel realistic, and it puts demands on the user’s muscles that are not necessary for the experience.

Around a decade ago, many home theater users experienced this false belief in motion. I remember the first time I tried a demo for a home theater motion system. That $12,000 seat was fun to sit in, as motion was a brand-new concept for the home. I also remember doing the demo a second time and finding the motion unattractive. After my brain started normalizing the movements, the motion system became a distraction from the movie. Often the motion had little relation to what was happening on the screen. No wonder that company never succeeded in the home theater marketplace.

Somewhere between Disney and that old mechanical pony is the rest of the world, including the world of Virtual Reality. Our work with The Void demonstrated that excellent haptic feedback can, in some situations, replace a motion system. I remember visiting The Void when they were getting the Ghostbusters experience up and flying. One of The Void managers told a story about a customer who visited the experience, and then marveled about the stage having a ground level and an upper level. When the manager explained that the attraction was only one story tall, the customer could not believe it, and exclaimed, “But there has to be a second floor. I know.  I rode the elevator up there.” The elevator effect worked because Clark Synthesis Transducers under the floor accurately reproduced the vibrations that any person would normally experience in an elevator. No motion system was in play.

If you must choose between motion and Large Area Haptic Feedback, we hope you choose Clark Synthesis Tactile Sound Transducers.  Here is a video to, hopefully, help you decide.

Simulator Motion Systems – A False Belief