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Name: Savier
Status: Student
Age: 13
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A


Question:
How do engineers put together a roller coaster so it can be better than all the rest? What elements are used?



Replies:
Roller coaster design has many aspects. "Better" is a relative term. Is "better" low maintenance cost, low product cost, structural lifetime, high cycle time, high safety, high speed, high acceleration, air time, high capacity, more fear, . . . ?

Instead of looking at all of these, I will address just the psychological side. Creating anticipation (a slow, noisy climb, hesitation at the top, a long drop) all contribute to the physiology of fear. A prolonged weightlessness with the perception (but NOT reality) of an inadequate restraint followed by a large acceleration causes an adrenaline response in the body. One of the key things is the timing of the hesitation. If there is too little, the sensations happen before the fear response. If it is too slow, rationalization kicks in and, well, the psychological impact of the ride is reduced.

Another aspect is visual. Sometimes there are reverse sequence lights in a tunnel or a sudden shift in the number of supports (particularly in wooden roller coasters. Sometimes false supports are put in.) This gives the illusions of greater speed than what you are really going at. Sometimes there is an intentional jerk with a visual cue (not always).

Exceedingly steep turns in an open car also gives the illusion of falling out. A trim of speed on an uphill can cause concern about making it over the hill, or a permanent oscillation in the previous valley. A sudden closing in, such as a tunnel, has effects on the physiology of fear. Speed bumps.

If a ride is long enough, more than one process might be used.

It is the skillful design of these aspects that give the 'kick' that many coaster enthusiasts enjoy.

Nathan A. Unterman



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