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The 7 Most Incredible Theme Park Ride Systems Ever Devised

2. KUKA robotic arm dark ride

First Use: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Universal’s Islands of Adventure, 2010)
Later Installations: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Universal Studios Japan, 2014; Universal Studios Hollywood, 2016)

No one could’ve predicted how dark rides would advance beyond the 4-D motion base technology of Spider-Man and Transformers, but Universal was working on the answer. Fittingly first (and so far, only) employed on the magical Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the technology behind our second Modern Wonder may be too complex to imagine... 

Image via The Theme Park Guy. Click for source.

Think of it this way: Ball up a fist and pretend the four fingers you see are four tiny people riding on your hand. Rotate, flex, and twist your wrist to imagine all the directions those people could face. Now bring your elbow into the mix. Notice how between the motion of your wrist and elbow, those people can turn, flip, twist, and dive. Great! Now remove your arm from your body and, at the shoulder, place it on a track that moves through a building interacting with scenery and screens. If you ended up with an insane contraption that basically replaces Spider-Man’s SCOOP with a crazy robotic arm that can flip riders onto their backs, swing them in enormous arches, and synchronize perfectly to all-encompassing screens, you’ve got the basic idea. If you don't mind spoilers, check out two photos of the ride behind the scenes, here and here. KUKA robo arms have been used in factory assembly lines for years, but never on a moving track holding passengers.

And on Forbidden Journey, add in even more moving parts: magical settings, animatronics supported on other KUKA robo arms, roving domed screens that move along with your arm, and spitting, smoking, whomping animatronics. If all that technology sounds chaotic, then it well describes the ride, too, and encapsulates one of the most stunning and unbelievable ride innovations since the dark ride itself.

1. Trackless, LPS-guided dark ride

Image via tdrfan.com

First Use: Pooh's Hunny Hunt (Tokyo Disneyland, 2000)
Later Installations: Aquatopia (Tokyo DisneySea, 2001); Empire of the Penguin (SeaWorld Orlando, 2013); Mystic Manor (Hong Kong Disneyland, 2013); Ratatouille: The Adventure (Walt Disney Studios, 2014)

Disney’s next leap forward is an incredible one. So far, they haven’t re-used the 4-D motion base technology or the KUKA robo arm technology that Universal innovated upon. Instead, they’ve taken a different fork in the evolutionary road.

Using LSP (that’s local positioning satellites), Disney’s new generation of dark rides is trackless. Sure, it’s aesthetically more interesting to not know exactly where your vehicle is about to go, but the technology does more than that. Typically on LPS-guided rides, four vehicles leave the station at once and proceed into the ride.

© Disney

Sometimes they line up and travel like an old-fashioned dark ride. Other times they each scatter and follow different paths. They can even “dance,” swirling around each other and coming within inches, spinning or backing up precariously. These trackless rides provide a different experience every time, sometimes even taking different routes.

It can be specialized for different roles between rides, too!

Its first installation – Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo DisneySea – is an impressive dark ride wherein riders' "hunny pot" vehicles interact with one another, "dance" around each other, and diverge along different paths through the Hundred Acre Wood. The technology then moved next door to Tokyo DisneySea where Aquatopia re-cast the ride as a rafts rolling through a lagoon-sized and trackless Autopia course of accelerating, reversing, spinning, and more. 

The ride's first installation in the US was the unexpected Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld, more or less wrapping the ride system as a small family dark ride with a motion base. 

© Disney.

Disneyland Paris turned the technology into a sort of SCOOP-copying Ratatouille ride, and the system even appeared at Disney California Adventure's Cars Land as Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, with a whole parking lot of Fiats performing an impressive and fun-to-watch synchronized dance together.

All that said, it was Hong Kong Disneyland’s one-of-a-kind Modern Marvel: Mystic Manor that blew away all expectations with its innovative new take on the Haunted Mansion. The spectacular and unmatched dark ride (which some say is Disney's greatest modern ride ever) uses the technology in the best of its tried-and-true ways, casting the LPS vehicles as "Magneto-Electric Carriages" invented by the eclectic Lord Henry Mystic to lead us on a tour of his estate packed with worldly wonders. Mystic Manor uses its trackless dark ride technology to feature a breathtaking finale that leaves riders in awe.


© Disney.

For proving how easily it can be adapted to new stories and styles, the trackless, LPS-guided dark ride has to be the number one Modern Wonder of the Theme Park World. What do you think? Are these Modern Wonders as marvelous as we think? Or is our countdown all out of whack? And if you missed it, don't forget to backtrack to our countdowns of the theme park world's "natural" wonders and "ancient" wonders!

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There are 5 comments.

But the technology doesn't do everything... Ratatouille is way less exciting than any Spider-Man, Transformers or Harry Potter. No story, no feelings, no sensations... Great for kids but really lame for the rest of the family.

Love these articles! How about one with other ride prototypes, like the omnimovers in water, or the weird planes in a row thing in a screened tunnel? Would love to know what else they could be thinking up.

Seems like "Soarin' Over California" at least deserves an honorable mention!

I agree with another comment made previously. Motion Theater rides were overlooked. Soaring, Back to the Future, the Simpsons all good all use fixed point motion carriages, not to mention Star Tours. High capacity quick output rides for the most part... these will see more use in the future.

KUKA robotic arm was first used on "Sum of All Thrills" at Epcot in 2009, not on Harry Potter.

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