Universal has occasionally faced criticism for its prevalence of new screen-based attractions in recent history; new patent applications published today might give us a glimpse at the next direction the company is planning on heading in future ride development. Four new patent applications by Universal City Studios LLC focus on different elements of augmented reality ride systems.
These documents all expand upon a previous application filed March 6th, 2017 titled “Systems and Methods for Digital Overlay in an Amusement Park Environment.” Each patent focuses on a different area or application of the same concept: augmented reality. Augmented reality is a term used when digital images are imposed on real world views, a combination of virtual reality and regular old reality.
Designing ride systems with AR in mind can be beneficial for a number of reasons. It makes re-theming or updating an attraction a much quicker process, as there aren’t as many set pieces to switch out and change. That would be useful to bring life into rides that have grown stale among guests, and also make it possible to have timely overlays which coincide with holidays or related film releases. As many of Universal’s AR systems utilize personal viewing goggles for the riders, attraction experiences can be personalized so that each guest gets more of what they want to see and less of what they don’t. Digital additions are also less expensive than physical props or characters, as they don’t get damaged or old and never need to be replaced or repurchased.
Mixed Reality Viewer System and Method
This patent stands alone as the only augmented reality viewing system based on a steady, non-moving platform. The illustrations look somewhat similar to the coin-operated binoculars that are present near various cities and natural landmarks, only with augmented reality animation thrown in.
This technology could prove as a fun, small addition to a new Universal Park or area such as the expected Super Nintendo World — with guests looking out onto the park and seeing animated characters roaming around and interacting with physical landmarks. Viewers might be able to transition from physical reality to augmented reality by using the device’s zoom function. It could also be possible for guests to control the characters themselves, turning the experience into an interactive mini-game.
Augmented Ride System and Method
This application provides the general outlines of how an augmented reality ride would work. As we’ve seen before, riders would wear AR goggles and be able to observe physical scenery along with digital scenery/effects. The system is highly customizable, and could include controls and sensors to track any number of factors in a guest’s experience, such as “passenger’s gaze direction, viewing perspective, field of view, viewing interest, interaction with the game, and so forth.”
This patent, like a few others, leaves plenty of room for gaming elements to be added to the system. It also could allow for each guest to have an unobstructed views during parts of the ride where normally another passenger’s head might be in the way.
Gameplay Ride Vehicle Systems and Methods
This is another catch-all ride gameplay system patent that overlaps heavily with a recent Universal multi-rider “Mario Kart” attraction patent. It outlines a number of variations that could be included in a multi-rider gaming experience. Passengers could all split control of the vehicle, operating different aspects or cooperating to steer and accelerate. Augmented reality could be used to simulate projectiles, objects, hazards, and atmosphere. These interactive aspects could be combined with the augmented reality aspects of the patent application described above.
System and Method for Layered Virtual Features in an Amusement Park Environment
The last application on today’s list combines a wearable visualization device with heads up displays or screens on the ride vehicle and surrounding areas to create multiple layers of digital scenery and effects. The goggles or headset could be used to project augmented reality images in addition to the ones on the vehicle screens, or in coordination with them.
The patent states, “The wearable visualization device may be used alone or in combination with other features to create a surreal environment, which may include an AR experience, a VR experience, a mixed reality experience, a computer-mediated reality experience, a combination thereof, or other similar surreal environment for the user. Specifically, the wearable visualization device may be worn by the user throughout the duration of a ride (e.g., a passenger ride vehicle) or another predetermined point such as during a game, at the entry of a particular area of an amusement park, during a ride to a hotel associated with the amusement park, at the hotel, and so forth.”
It is always important to note that the existence of a patent application does not guarantee the patent’s approval, and the existence of an approved patent does not guarantee that technology’s implementation. Exactly how much of a presence augmented reality will have in Universal parks in the near future is anyone’s guess, but we do know that this is the latest in a string of applications that focus on the subject. Universal is clearly putting effort into designing systems for create efficient and entertaining augmented reality attractions.
Source/Images: United States Patent and Trademark Office