Top Tech Rollercoasters

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Manta at Sea World Orlando

Manta , the newest thrill at Sea World Orlando, puts you in a unique position to twist, turn and soar over the amusement park. To ride this coaster, you're strapped onto the underbelly of a Manta Ray-shaped train in a head-first, face-down position so there's nothing between you and the aquariums 140 feet below.

One of the world's few flying coasters, Manta hits speeds up to 56 miles per hour, has a near-miss with a waterfall, and incorporates a heart-thumping wing dip.

"What makes this flying coaster different from others is that it flies over the lagoon and does a wing dip. It has close calls with a rock wall and waterfalls. It has other maneuvers such as loops and barrel rolls," says Tim Carrier, director of park operations at Sea World Orlando. "A flying coaster is the perfect way to experience how a Manta swims undersea."

Opened in May, Manta uses state-of-the-art computer technology. Sensors are placed along the 3,359 feet of steel track, in the station and on each train.

"The 144 sensors onboard the trains are talking to Programmable Logic Controllers sensing the various aspects of the trains: the positions of the seats, the locking pens, are the seats engaged or not. All of that information is fed into a control system," Carrier says. "Once the train is dispatched from the station, the sensors are monitoring where the trains are on the track. There are six blocks on the Manta ride, and no two trains can occupy the same block."

Computerized special effects enhance the Manta ride. During the train's wing dip, computer-operated water pumps create a rooster-tail spray of water to simulate the wing of the train actually hitting the water.

"The riders could possibly get slightly wet, but they do not come into direct contact with the water," Carrier explains. "They also come really close to the waterfall. We call it kissing the waterfall. The riders think they're going to go right through it and then the train turns."

Also computerized are the ride's sound effects -- the whoosh you hear when the train lifts up and puts you in a horizontal position. There are images of water, light and shadow rippling on the walls of the station to simulate a Manta swimming.

Disney's Toy Story Mania!

Disney's most technologically advanced ride isn't a roller coaster. It's an interactive experience called Toy Story Mania!, which combines moving vehicles, computer generated 3-D images and shoot 'em up action. Toy Story Mania! opened at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., and its Hollywood Studios Park in Orlando last year.

Read more about Disney's WiFi-enabled rides

A Disney "Imagineer" works on a model of the facade for Toy Story Mania! at Disney's Cali. Adventure Park.
With Toy Story Mania!, riders wear 3-D glasses and view 3-D images of the characters from the Toy Story movies. Riders pass by five classic carnival games and use an on-board shooting device to throw pies, toss rings or otherwise interact in a virtual way with the games. Ten-inch LCD displays on the vehicles show riders how many points they've racked up during each game.

Behind the scenes at Toy Story Mania! are 154 graphics workstations running Windows XP that are used to render 3-D images at 60 frames per second. The workstations communicate via an industrial-strength wireless network based on 802.11a technology.

"There are a lot of computers because there's a lot of rendering going on," says John Noonan, technical director of show control systems for Walt Disney Imagineering. "Each scene has its own rendering computer, and for each scene it is rendering the 3-D images in real time at 60 frames per second."

Toy Story Mania! has 56 screens, and each has its own rendering computer. The computers are high-end PCs with powerful graphics cards and special digital audio cards. These PCs render the ride's 3-D images and match them up with the appropriate sound effects, such as the pop when a dart hits a balloon.

Additionally, the ride's peanut-shaped vehicles, which seat eight people, have onboard computer gaming systems for each pair of riders.

The onboard computer "gathers information about the pitch and yaw of each shooter and pulls rotational information about the turret. It knows within an inch where the vehicle is around the track in the building," Noonan explains. "It takes all of those numbers and crunches them appropriately so it can draw the correct physics of the projectile image. And it does this every 60th of a second. That's how we make it look like you just shot something out of your shooter."

Toy Story Mania! has a separate ride control system, which is similar to the type used in roller coasters. In addition to the onboard gaming systems, the vehicles have PLCs that manage how the vehicles move across the track.

"The ride control computer is what's keeping track of where the vehicle is...It knows within one inch where it is in the building and the rotational position of the turrets," Noonan says. "All of that information is collected in real time and gets constantly refreshed and integrated into the onboard gaming computers...In order for this ride to work, it had to be tightly integrated."

Slideshow: Images of these rollercoasters

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