Technology is vital when it comes to creating innovative and memorable visitor experiences and attractions. But what are the key attraction technology trends for 2020?
Visitors are becoming more tech-savvy, mobile phones are increasingly powerful and VR is losing its novelty. Blooloop predicts six attraction technology trends as ones to watch in the year ahead.
1. Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality is key when looking at attraction technology trends. It went from strength to strength in 2019. According to Forbes, it’s predicted that location-based entertainment (LBE) will comprise approximately 11 per cent of the VR industry by 2023. However, VR is evolving to include social interaction, a good story and gameplay mechanics.
Lionsgate Entertainment World
Lionsgate Entertainment World, one of China’s most technologically advanced theme parks, opened in August 2019. The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride, a next-gen VR ride, is the world’s first multiplayer interactive hyper-reality VR simulator experience.
As for museums, we’re continuing to see the use of VR to add an extra dimension to exhibits. Following the trend, The Louvre collaborated with HTC Vive Arts on its first VR experience for visitors. That was called Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass.
Another innovative use of VR came via the Museum of Future Experiences (MoFE), a virtual reality pop-up museum in New York. The multi-sensory experience includes analysis, audio-visual stimulation and dreamlike VR curated to visitors’ inner being.
Will we see more applications of VR in wellness and retreats as the tech becomes less cumbersome?
Currently, experiences like the War of the Worlds VR walkthrough elements often use interactors to add sensations and jumps. We expect to see the development and increasing integration of haptics in VR LBE.
After an initial rush to add VR to coasters, we’re seeing a more thoughtful use of motion bases and seatsbringing feedback into attractions.
Virtuix, developer of the Omni virtual reality treadmilland Omni Arena esports attraction, has had success in getting players moving. We’re not quite at Ready Player One yet. But free roam backpacks will get lighter as computing and communication technology advances.
In 2020, we predict that virtual reality will only continue to grow and evolve, especially when it comes to location-based VR.
However, not everyone is sold on VR. Low-tech immersion is also an emerging trend in the attractions industry. Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger has said the company doesn’t plan on pushing VR at its theme parks. Disney’s focus is on creating immersive themed lands IRL.
2. Augmented reality (AR)
Augmented reality is, as the name suggests, an augmented view of the real world. It is supported by both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Disney CEO Bob Iger. Iger prefers to keep visitors in the theme park, and not a virtual world.
This is one of the attraction technology trends that popped up several times in 2019. However, VR still seemingly has the edge.
Ginza Sony Park in Tokyo, Japan unveiled a ‘Ghostbusters Rookie Training’ AR experience, as part of its ‘Ghostbusters in the Park’ programme. The attraction invites players to explore Ginza Sony Park, exterminating ghosts using a prototype AR headset.
In addition, 2019 witnessed the launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite – a new augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic, the makers of Pokémon Go. The game overlays the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on the real world, with artefacts, creatures, people and memories mysteriously appearing in the Muggle world.
The sessions included an interactive walk featuring works by contemporary artists. They also featured a class teaching the basics of creating AR using Swift Playgrounds, as well as an AR art installation.
Lisa Phillips, Toby Devan Lewis Director for the New Museum, said: “Augmented reality is a medium ripe for dynamic and visual storytelling that can extend an artist’s practice beyond the studio or the gallery and into the urban fabric.”
The Smithsonian Channel also launched the ‘Apollo’s Moon Shot’ augmented reality app, which allowed users to experience Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing of 1969. Users were put on the surface of the moon, virtually moonwalking around the craters in a state of altered gravity.
And an added benefit of having your guests use their smartphones is the collection of useful data. Wifi tracking and Big Data will increasingly help attractions optimise their experiences for, and interactions with, visitors.
Dinosaur robots at Huis Ten Bosch Henn Na Hotel
Attraction technology trends for 2019 saw mixed fortunes in the bot population. Last year did not start well for robots. The Henn na chain of hotels in Japan, famed for its robot staff, removed almost half of the bots as they caused more work for human staff.
Still, Alibaba Group’s futuristic ‘FlyZoo’ hotel features robot staff delivering cocktails and fresh towels. Andy Wang, CEO of Alibaba Future Hotel Management, said: “It’s all about the efficiency of the service and the consistency of service because the robots are not disturbed by human moods. Sometimes, we say we are not in the mood. But the system and the robot will always be in the mood.”
Bots are making art now, too. An exhibition at the University of Oxford showcased art created by the world’s first ultra-realistic AI humanoid robot artist. Ai-Da uses a robotic arm and pencil to draw what she sees thanks to cameras in her eyeballs. AI algorithms, created by scientists at the University of Oxford, help produce coordinates for her arm to create art.
Microsoft also has a $125m ‘AI for Good’ programme, and previously announced ‘AI for Cultural Heritage’, which uses AI to address challenges in society. It launched this in response to modern threats to cultural heritage. It’s an attempt to preserve people, places, languages and artefacts.
This is something that Universal is looking at too with the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator programme. Respeecher is one of the tech start-ups selected. The company has created “Obamification” which allows face transfer and voice conversion.
At IAAPA 2019, Dreamcraft Attractions exhibited Project Eve. Eve is an AI-based on a real actor who can play noughts and crosses (Tic Tac Toe in the US). The technology has the potential to create avatars who look like real people, either theme park guests or actors from movie franchises.
Dali Museum AR app
Interactivity is one of the ongoing attraction technology trends from the last few years. Experiences are becoming more engaging, immersive and personalised. And it shows no signs of slowing down in 2020. Smartphones have altered visitors’ expectations when it comes to engaging with attractions.
It’s no longer enough to create beautiful theming or a static exhibit. Attractions need to connect with Millennials and Gen Z, using the latest technology and embracing smartphones.
It will first open this summer at Universal Studios Japan, combining the real world and video games, with visitors able to use a wearable wristband, called a Power Up Band, alongside a smartphone app. The Power Up Bands are themed to different characters. They allow guests to collect digital coins and compete with other guests.
Super Nintendo World
Thierry Coup, Senior VP and CCO, Universal Creative, said: “Think of Super Nintendo World as a life-size, living video game where you become one of the characters. You’re not just playing the game; you’re living the game, you’re living the adventure.”
The Experience Economy‘s Joe Pine said: “I used to tell those who stage experiences that if somebody pulls out their phone in the middle of an experience, it means they are disengaged, not a part of that experience anymore. Now it’s the opposite.
“The first thing you want is for everyone to pull out their phone and take a picture that recognises they are engaged with the experience. That is a big change.”
A new type of storytelling
Holovis, a leading experience designer, previously launched its software platform HoloTrac. This identifies guests through an attribute recognition engine in order to offer personalised experiences, with guests interacting within the space and enjoying a nonlinear narrative.
We’ve already seen interactivity in Black Mirror’s ‘choose your own adventure’ episode. Meanwhile, Disney Research is using artificial intelligence to develop an interactive storytelling system. Some customers still seek passive experiences. But there is a growing desire for experiences that people can drive themselves, as heroes of their own stories.
As Pine said: “The rise of the smartphone allows us to centre the universe around us, personally. We can summon a car by magic; we can access any piece of information. One of the things it drives is the need for more customised goods and services within those experiences, so they are more personal.”
Esports is now a global multi-billion dollar industry featuring professional players with a huge fan following. These eventsoften sell out, and specialist stadia have popped up around the globe to host tournaments.
Esports will change the design and technology used in venues from arenas to cinemas. And gaming is already influencing attraction design, for instance through brands like Nintendo, or game mechanics in storytelling.
“Even from the earliest days of gaming, people have wanted to compete,” said Philip N. Kaplan, GameWorks chairman and CEO. Esports is just a formalisation of this natural phenomenon of folks competing. Everyone loves going to watch races; similarly, everybody loves going to esports events.”
Reinventing casinos with esports
Casinos are also experimenting with esports, in a bid to attract a new audience after something different. For example, The LINQ Hotel & Casino at Caesars is transforming itself into an experiential casino space. It now boasts holographic games, interactive art exhibits, esports, fan caves, self-service beer, and VR.
Matthew Kenagy, senior director of strategic development at Caesars Entertainment, spoke about the experience:
“When we first started designing the space, we began by thinking about millennials. Our research demonstrated that it is not so much that millennials don’t want to play in casinos. It’s that they don’t want to play in a space where they are sitting next to someone that looks like their parent.”
When it comes to attraction technology trends, visitors today are particular. The experiences they want are increasingly interactive, customised, individual, shareable, or all of the above.
With this in mind, many attractions are providing innovative offerings and state-of-the-art tech. It has never been more important to focus on the visitor experience in the age of social media.
Looking ahead, key developments incorporating many of these cutting edge technologies are Super Nintendo Land and Disney’s Star Warshotel. We await both with interest to see how Universal and Disney use technology to create hyper immersive experiences.