Pragmatic 75: Rollercoasters

13 September, 2016


A lot of people love Rollercoasters including the hosts of the show. We look at the history, evolution and revolution of these amazing thrill rides.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. By exploring the real-world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows visit today. I'm your host John Chidjy and today I'm joined by Vic Hudson. How you doing Vic? I'm good John, how are you man? I am very well thank you and there's a reason I'm very well is because I am finally after all this time going to talk about one of my favorite pastime activities. Do you like roller coasters? I do. I mean, I know there are people that don't, but I don't meet too many of them. Grollercosters are so much fun. And one of the problems is... Not so much a fan of the old wickety wooden style anymore, but I like these new solid steel tube constructed ones. But yeah, I like them. Yeah, and I'll say go Disney, and there's a reason for that. So, okay, let's just look before I get into the history and everything. I'm just curious, how old were you and what was the first roller coaster that you ever went on? Putting you on the spot. I think that would be, I know you spent some time here in the States. Have you ever been to a place called Kings Island in Ohio? No. Okay. They've got one there that's called the Beast. It's an old wooden roller coaster. I think that was it. Is it a beast, would you say? It was certainly scary. I was pretty young. So how old were you? I want to say somewhere in the 6 to 10 range, maybe. Cool. How many times did you go on it? A few. Okay. A few. If my memory serves correctly, my parents took me to this amusement park. If my memory serves correctly, we rode it at least two or three times that day. And there were some other roller coasters there at the park too, but that's the one that really stood out. All right, cool. Well, my first... I've had lots of other fun ones over the years, so... But that's probably the first. Okay. So, when I, um, so we have the, the carnival when it comes to town, the show, the local show, I think we've talked about this previously. Um, uh, and they would have the, uh, the bolt together rides and they're not exactly like a roller coast. They sort of are, but it's like one little carriage, like one person sits in there, maybe two, you know, and it sort of goes around this very compact track and it doesn't go very high and there's, you know, you probably, you know, what sort of what I mean. It's not, it is sort of a roller coaster, but it's portable, so it can't be that big and it can't be that fast and yeah, it's got to be. Yeah. My parents never would let me ride those because they didn't trust the, the carny's that did the assembly and disassembly. Exactly. That was exactly what my mom said. So yeah, I actually, I saw those, but never went on them. But the first roller coaster I ever saw, keeping, keeping in mind that I'm, you know, quote unquote a country boy, if you can consider Rockhampton a country town. Some people do, some people don't. 65,000 people, I don't think it qualifies as being a country town. Like Barcalden that has a population of about 1,000, that qualifies as a country town. Then even then, I'm sure that someone from, I don't know, gosh, Charleville that has a population of 350% that's really a country town. Then someone from, oh, jeez, I don't know, Birdsville that has a population of 100% say, "No, that's not really a country town. Anyway, you get ... Never mind. Everything's relative, isn't it? All right. Back with me again. I went on one of my tangents there. The World Expo in 1988 was the first time I ever left Rockhampton for any significant distance. I mean, I'd been to Gladstone. I'd been out to Mount Morgan. I'd been up to Mackay. Actually, had I been? No, I went to Marlborough and I went obviously to Yipunimi Park on the coast. So I hadn't been more than about a hundred mile radius from my hometown. So the first time I ever came to Brisbane was for where I now live, was for the expo in 1988. And there was a roller coaster there and it was called the Titan. And I looked at it and I really, really, really wanted to go on it. Unfortunately, when I was on that trip, I was in grade seven or seventh grade. And at that point, I was there as a school group for a week and we were going to the World Expo and it was, so we had what we call glue buddies. We were basically just like, it was the buddy system, right? So you had to stay stuck with your buddy and I had enough money to buy a ride pass and the ride pass had three colors. It was like a red or an A, I think it was. And that was the top of the line, you know, thrill ride. So we had a choice of the ghost train thingy, scary ride or an actual roller coaster for the first time in my life and I'm like, "I want to go on the roller coaster, I want to go on the roller coaster," but I couldn't leave my buddy. He said, "I don't want to go on a roller coaster. Roller coasters are dumb." I'm like, "Seriously." What's wrong with you, man? Yeah, what's the matter with you? I was not impressed. It's time for new friends. You know what I did, of course, being the awesome, absolutely awesome and obedient person that I was. I said, "Right. I'm going. See you." I kid you not, I had taken three steps away from him, and one of the damn teachers spotted me. I hope you're not leaving your glue buddy. And I'm like, guess I'm not anymore. And so I went on the stupid, boring, tedious ghost scary ride that was completely not scary. And said goodbye to my red tickets. - You didn't take him hostage and make him ride it with you? - No, I was just, no. I'm going to go back in time and do that. Anyway, it's fine. It's really, I'm fine. I'm over it really. How long ago was that? God, I'm still pissed. Anyway, nevermind. But the first actual- It sounds like you're hanging on to it a little. Nah, it's perfectly healthy. The first actual roller coaster I ever went on was at a place called Dream World and that's Dream World still running, but this particular roller coaster was dismantled about 10 years ago and it was called the Thunderbolt. And the Thunderbolt was the only roller coaster in the Southern Hemisphere that had a double loop. So, that was its claim to fame anyway. It's been decommissioned for about a decade now anyway. Now, where I live, I'm really lucky because there's actually four major theme parks within an hour's drive of where I live. So, the first one is a water park called Wet 'n Wild and it sort of has, you know, those crossover rides that's kind of half like a roller coaster but half a water ride. So, it has a few of those. And the next one is SeaWorld and no, not the one in San Diego. It's the Aussie knockoff, which is having been to SeaWorld in San Diego, just is not as good. I'm sorry. It just isn't as good as the one in San Diego. Dream World, the aforementioned Dream World, which is one of my personal favorites. It also has an attached water park that comes under the same banner. They call it White Water World. But in any case, it's just Dream World to me. And then of course, Movie World, which is, in terms of roller coasters, my favourite. So anyway, so I'll be spoiled for choice where I live, so lucky me. Anyway, and so I just, I love roller coasters. So all right, without further ado, a bit of history. So person by the name of LaMarcus Adner Thompson holds the first patent. That was dated January of 1885. Predating that though, that was the first patent for what we understand today as a roller coaster, but predating that, the Russians actually were the first to build up ice hills and these ice hills, they called them Russian Mountains, well that's what they were called anyway, sort of after the fact. They were about 24 meters or 80 feet tall and, well the recorded ones were, maybe they were higher, but those are the recorded ones, and people would climb to the top and slide down on blocks of ice. was in about the 1600s. So, going back a few hundred years there. There was also a debate that the French were actually the first to build what we think of as the modern roller coaster, like a wooden coaster. And it was inspired by the Russian mountains, but the actual cars were secured to a track. And in 1817, there was one that was even called Le Montage Russes à Belleville, which is loosely translated as the Russian Mountains of Belleville. So anyway, getting back to Mr. Thompson, Thompson actually built something called the, he called it the Switchback Railway at Coney Island and that was in Brooklyn. That was in 1884. And it was 180 meters long, which is 600 feet long, but it was dual track. And if you can imagine one end of each end of the dual track was up high and the other end was down low. So you'd start at the top and ride down to the bottom. And the carriage then was winched from the bottom at the destination end back to the top, switch to the other track and then you'd ride back on the other direction. So the ride was completely done under gravity and the lifting was via a winch mechanism. So the return trip was not contiguous. So it was like a uni... it was a bi-directional coaster, but you had to intervene to make it go back to where it started. So that was the first full circuit roller coaster, which is what we typically have today with a lift hill, was one called the Gravity Pleasure Road. And that was built by Philip Hinkle the following year. So the one-upmanship of course that often happens back and forth between designers went on for years until the Great Depression in 1927. And at that point, no one had any money left. The patronage dropped. People just didn't have money to spend on frivolous things like a thrill ride. So it sort of faded from public anything and yeah, no one really cared anymore. So that period of time, roughly from 1880 through to 1930-ish was sort of widely regarded as the first golden age of roller coasters. And that first age was defined by the wooden coaster. So no steel coasters yet, although the running tracks were made out of steel, they weren't what we think of as a steel coaster. And that steel coaster revolution actually started in 1959. And it was actually an invention from Disneyland. The ride itself, the first ride to feature this was called the Matterhorn Bobsleds. But the funniest thing is, as is often the case, is that it took, it actually took nearly a decade before lots of other places started to replicate that design and realized just how far they could push the steel design framework. So it wasn't really until the 70s that they considered that the second golden age of roller coasters began. And we're still, I think, widely regarded to be in that second golden age, if you'd like. So that's a little bit of the history, but we talk about wooden and steel coasters. So, the different types. So, wooden- Initially, I sort of found that distinction to be a bit odd, you know, because even though a wooden roller coaster is what they call it, a wooden coaster, it still uses steel running wheels, you know, and it still uses a steel train track style of tracks, you know, it's just that the frame, the car and the substructure were typically made from wood. So, what makes something a steel coaster, those are the ones that use steel for the structure, steel for the cars, steel tubing for the tracks, rather than traditional train track style. So, you know, like if you did a cross section, if you cut a piece of train track, you know, in half, it sort of looks like the letter I, like the profile. So, that's what they refer to in civil engineering as an I-beam. So it's really an I-beam where the top has been rolled narrower and slightly thicker to give it more strength. So that sort of a style of coaster is what you would use for wood for that sort of track. But on steel you would use a tube and that's, you know, again was Disneyland's concept way back in 1959. So anyway, roller, but just breaking the word down for a second. So roller is based on the idea that the carriage that people sits in rolls and coaster is based on the idea that the carriage proceeds through the circuit under kinetic energy. So it coasts along. - Sounds very literal. Imagine that. - It's one of those names that actually makes perfect sense, which is unusual, but good. So anyway, all right. Basic physics, right? We lift a moving body in height. It then has potential energy, since the force of gravity exerts potential on that body, that we've increased its height away from the center of gravity, which is in this case the center of the Earth. The conversion of that potential energy into motion is called the body's kinetic energy. So the only thing that stops kinetic energy are friction losses. And you'll get friction loss from air, which is what people generally call drag, and of course the rolling resistance. So your bearings, the wheel contact with the track and any misalignments thereof. So any roller coaster that's continuously powered is therefore technically not a roller coaster. And any ride that contains multiple stages with coaster elements is technically also not a roller coaster either. So you know how I said before like the water park rides where you know you've got a thing where you float around a bit, then you might go up a little lift hill and then you rollercoast down the other side. That's technically not a rollercoaster either because it's a combination. Yeah. So and I think that in the designers quest to make it every ride just a little bit different, you know, it's like, oh, you got to try blah, blah, blah, right. It's Six Flags, Magic Mountain and whatever state because it's got a slightly different tunnel bit that's got water. And it's like, oh, yeah, right. That's so different. Anyway, in their quest to make it just a little bit different and special and unique, they kind of got rid of the whole idea of just a roller coaster for the sake of being a roller coaster, and they added all this other stuff. So you can't really call those roller coasters and be technically accurate anymore. So the more modern terminology is thrill ride. So, yeah, so it's like, you know, it's no longer just like this. There's very few places left in the world where the amusement park is entirely roller coasters. There's a few of them, like I think Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio is one of them. There's a few of them that are just roller coasters, but technically now they just refer to them as like either theme parks or amusement parks. So and the rides in them are thrill rides. And a lot of the amusement parks now sort of rate their thrill rides based on their intensity. Yeah. I've always found it to be a bit fluffy. You know, it's like, how do you describe the intenseness of your roller coaster? Well, it's such a relative thing because what's really intense for one person might be kind of, meh, for somebody else. Let's say you're a fighter pilot, right, and you're used to pulling like seven or eight G's in a loop the loop or whatever the hell, or a barrel roll or whatever the hell you do. Yeah. You might be having a heart attack and he's just getting warmed up. You'd be there clutching at your chest and he'd be like, what's your problem, man? You feeling OK over there, buddy? So, you know, but yeah, exactly right. It's everything's relative and it's kind of like the way they rate like ski hills, too. Right. Like that's a quad black diamond thing. I'm not a skier. That was a bad example to draw. Well, not really, I guess it's similar, but I just don't know enough about it. So, it's like a blue diamond quad double blind barrel. I think you should stop. Okay, yes. Let's stick with roller coasters. Let's just do that. Indeed, very good. So, more on modern coaster design features. So, the cars in a modern coaster are actually because you have multiple cars or carriages, they refer to that as a train. So, it's not no different really to a train on the train tracks really, except it carries a hell of a lot less people and unlike a train, it doesn't get you to a destination. It just takes you back to where you started, which if you think about it, it's really kind of crazy. No, I didn't mind that. Okay, so the modern coaster's design features, talking about steel coasters because wooden coasters are like, "Hmm, yeah, I know." They're kind of terrifying in different ways because you think they're going to fall apart, but I'm more interested in the steel coasters. So let's talk about them. So you've got the primary running wheels, sometimes called traction wheels. So these are the very large diameter wheels and they carry the weight of the carriage under its maximum load. And that maximum load can be quite a bit. It can be like six Gs, you know, for some of these extreme coasters. And yeah, when I say Gs, right, so we're standing on gravity, we're standing on... I get it. But for the listeners, okay, when you're standing at ground level, gravity pulls you down to the force of 1g. So six times that. That's how much you feel on some of these rides. So your body, if your body, if you weigh 200 pounds. How much it's going to peel your face back. Exactly. Yes. So if you feel your face getting sucked back, then you know it's good g's. So if you weigh 200 pounds and you're experiencing 6Gs, it feels like you actually weigh 1200 pounds. So, yeah. Anyway, the next kind of wheels, sticking to wheels, are the upstop wheels, which is a really crazy name. Some people call them under friction wheels, but these are the ones that clamp over the top of the rail. So they're directly opposite the running wheels. So imagine you've got running wheels, so the carriage sits on the track with the running wheels underneath. So there's a clamp that goes around either the outside or the inside like a steel clamp and the upstop wheels actually come in underneath. So they're directly in line, they're directly opposite each other and they essentially clamp the carriage firmly to the track and they're usually the smallest set of wheels because they're usually not in contact with the track. only there so that when it goes up and over and you get stuck getting negative G's where you're starting to fly off the tracks that they stop it from flying off the tracks and hopefully your harness stops you from flying off out of the carriage. That's a bad result if that happens. For those good fun barrel rolls. Yeah, exactly. Barrel rolls or if you've got like a slow section where you go upside down for any reason. So the third kind of wheels are side friction wheels and these ones I always find interesting because the thing is that if you've got two tracks and you've got upstop wheels and you've got running wheels, what stops the carriage from shifting too much to the left or right? Because well, if it does, then you're going to lose contact with the track. So these are what the side friction wheels are there for. they keep it centered precisely between the each of the track, each of the physical tubes. So these three sets of wheels and usually they're in pairs. So you won't just have like one running wheel and then have one upstop wheel and one side friction wheel, you'll usually have two for balance. So each of those will form like that that group and that clamping arrangement, they call that a wheel assembly. So there's usually six wheels in an individual wheel assembly. And there are four wheel assemblies usually per carriage because most carriages are an individual unit. So you'll have two at the front and two at the back. So you have two assemblies. So that's anywhere between four to 10 carriages in a train, depending on the design, that's a lot of wheels. Anyway. So with wheels, there's two predominant materials that they use for the wheels. First one's nylon, and that's a hard plastic, but it's got really, really good wear characteristics. But the problem with them is because they're hard, they don't absorb any irregularities in the track. So that makes them more prone to vibration. And it means the passengers get a much rougher ride. Sometimes that's what you want. Other times it's not what you want because people can actually get heavily bruised if it's too rough. And then people tend to complain and blah, blah, blah, cry, cry, cry. Well, smalls violin. But never mind that. Some of those coasters will beat you to death. - Some of those coasters are pretty extreme. But if you want to have a nice softer approach, you go with a softer plastic like polyurethane. And that causes less wear on the track, provides a much smoother ride. But the problem with that is of course, softer compound means it wears out more quickly, so it needs more regular replacement and that gets expensive. So some roller coaster designs, they'll actually mix and match. So some of the wheels like the upstops and the side frictions will be-- - The polyurethane's quieter on the track too, isn't it? - It is, yes. Much, much quieter. So I remember we had a ride here that was originally called the Corkscrew. That was at SeaWorld, and they changed its name recently and called it the SeaViper. It's exactly the same coaster, okay? But anyway, nevermind. So anyway, and then I think they shut it, so that was that. - They're not fooling you. - No, they're fooling me for a second. Ah, whatever. Anyway, and it was really, really, really smooth. I always wondered why and then I did my research and figured out, "Oh, that's why, there you go." It's because they use polyurethane wheels on it. Anyway, all right. So I found this really cool website and it's not Wikipedia. It's Coasterpedia. There's a link in the show notes. Coasterpedia. I'm going to have to visit that. Yes. So Coasterpedia. Now, Coasterpedia lists all of the G-forces for all the different roller coasters that have been submitted from around the world. You know, pictures, track details, all sorts of stuff like that. Anyway, and the most interesting statistic that I found was the maximum G-forces. And the maximum G-force of any roller coaster in its database in the world is the Tower of Terror, and that's in Jo'burg. That's what the locals call it. Everyone else in the world calls it Johannesburg. That's in South Africa. 6.3 G's in the Tower of Terror. So, yeah, my favourite local roller coaster is in the list. It's the Superman Escape at Movie World that I mentioned, and that's in the Gold Coast. And it has a peak of 4.2 G's. Now, the zero to 100 time is also another measure. Zero to zero to 100 kilometres an hour, zero to 60 miles an hour. And on that particular one, it's two seconds. Which is like Formula 1, IndyCar acceleration speeds, like 1.8, 1.9 seconds is pretty typical, right? So it's pretty fast. The launch mechanism on it is a tyre drive, and the overall ride time is like a minute and 40 seconds. But the first minute is the setup before the launch, so it's like meandering through a bunch of tunnels, and Superman telling you he's going to get you out of there Superman fast. And it's like, oh, really? Superman. Oh, my God. And that's it. Anyway. So the last like 40 seconds is really the best part of the ride. So one of the other little features of that database, I had to look for the fastest roller coaster in the world. It's actually currently one called Formula Rossa or Rossa, probably. And that's at Ferrari World. No surprises there. And that's an Abu Dhabi. Top speed on that 149 miles per hour. That's its top speed. Yikes, that's fast. So anyway. Okay. So a couple of little interesting things about a roller coasters, the effect of a wet track. And the thing is that when they design a roller coaster, it has what they call a cycle time. And the cycle time is how long it takes to unload the coaster, load the coaster, and then do a circuit and basically complete the right, exactly wash, rinse and repeat. Things can get more complicated if you've got like more than one car in the circuit, but most roller coasters that I've been on are single car. Some of them will have a second car in operation. So the idea is that you load one car, get it going, and then whilst it's doing it circuit, you then load up the second car. Or so you can see, yeah, exactly. And some of them have also got like the essentially a multi stages. So one block section. So let's say you might have like a pause point halfway along, where if you've got multiple cars in the circuit, if it banks back, you don't enter the next section until it's safe to do so. Like you got multiple blocks. Anyway, so the effect of a wet track is that when they do these designs, they design the cars to go through the circuit in a certain period of time because the physics is the physics. So assuming your running wheels are operating correctly, assuming that your track is dry and that you have the maximum load applied to all of them, which is of course the biggest problem is your maximum loads because under maximum loads are the heaviest of all the the passengers in all of the unit of all of your carriages. Once you lift that up the top of the lift hill and let it go, that is gonna be the maximum speed you're gonna get because the heavier it is, the more momentum it's got, the faster it will go. So lighter carriages, empty carriages, for example, will take the longest time to go around because there's less momentum, less potential energy, less kinetic energy created when it goes down the other side of your lift hill. So what they'll do though is when they start a theme park in the morning is that they will run each of them on a dry run and they'll do a dry run, it's completely unladen and they'll check the cycle times and the cycle times have to come in unladen within a certain range. And once they've come back repeatedly through that range, you know that you've got no issues with any wheels or bearings or, you know, so everything is happening within the time period that you would expect. So there's no cause for concern. The problem with a wet track is that it reduces friction And you might think, well, that's okay, because it'll make it go faster. And it's like, yeah, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Too much speed is bad. And the problem with that is, of course, that the faster you go, the more strain it puts on the track, so it reaches a point at which you can't actually safely do it without flying off the track or damaging the track, or just as importantly, injuring one of the people on the ride. So you'll find... Most of these are designed with a pretty tight set of specifications. Yes, they are, and they have to be, because what they'll do when they design them is they'll put test dummies in there and check all the lateral accelerations to make sure that it's going to be comfortable for passengers and so on. It's all done by a computer program. These days they can simulate all of that before they even build it. But the reality is that if you wet the track, it throws a lot of that math out of the window. So you'll find most of these roller coaster parks, when it rains, they will not run. Some of them might, but most of them will not run. So after it's rained, what they'll do is they'll typically send the coaster out for a wet lap and that running it around actually has an effect of starting to dry it, so it breaks up any of the moisture that's accumulated on the track. And as it comes around and they'll- - Oh, it heats the track up too, does it? - Yes, it does. It'll push some of the water out the way, it'll spread some of that, disperse some of it, heat it up a little bit. It'll just basically, you know, pre-dry it as it were. But then after that, they'll wait and they'll do another car around and they'll start checking the cycle time. So if the cycle time unladen is safe, then they will put it back into operation again. So yeah, not as simple as you'd like it to be, but got to stay safe. So I talked a little bit before about lift hills, right? This is not the only way to do it, of course, but it is by far the most common way to do it. A lift hill, of course, for those that don't know, a lift hill is essentially you get on your roller coaster and it goes clickety-clack just going down the track. Then it goes on. Yes, this nice suspense building. Yes. Then you reach this chain lift and the chain lift starts pulling you. So it usually connects on under the carriage if it's a sit down or stand up coaster. And it just gradually pulls you up this very steep incline. And you sort of get pushed back into your seat or whatever and as you're going up you're getting higher and higher. And it usually has a bunch of these, I'm struggling for the technical name, but they are essentially a series of steel flaps. the steel flaps are like a safeguard so that if the chain lets go for some reason, that the roller coaster can't actually roll backwards and that would be a bad outcome. They also contribute to the nice suspensibility. Yes, exactly. Because as you're going up, it goes chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick. Just in case you didn't think that you're going up and this is a big deal. In case you forgot where you were. These will remind you. And then, of course, you've got the ominous when the kikklink's finish and you get to the top of the lift hill. Kikklink? Kikklink? Yeah. And you're like, uh-oh, the kikklinking stopped. Oh, man. And then, of course, there is the after the lift hill comes the famous first drop, right? And as many a roller coaster designer will tell you, any idiot can create a ride that has an amazing mind-blowing first drop when you've got the maximum amount of kinetic energy. The trick is not having a great first drop, it's actually maintaining the riders attention during the entire duration of the ride, like making it exciting from the first moment all the way to when they get off and obviously the biggest buzz for the ride designers is when you get off the ride, you go right back to the end of the line, you get on again. It's kind of, anyway, getting off topic though. - That's kind of how we did the B-step. - Ah, nice. - I think I was like six or seven. - So that's lift hills. - I think. - Okay. - But yeah. - One of the things about lift hills is that that slow climb to the top, and that's part of the suspense, but there's other ways of doing it. way of doing it is the Superman escape example and the Tower of Terror example as well. We have another one in Dreamworld called the Tower of Terror. They don t use the lift hill with the slow climb on the chain. What they will do is they will do a launch through a launch mechanism. The launch mechanisms vary, but you ve got counterweight and through a catapult mechanism through a series of counterbalances, but you also have just a standard tyre launch. So the idea is you have a series of motors that sit just beneath the track and what they'll do is they will raise up and make contact with a series of secondary connection point underneath the carriages. And they connect under there, and so there's like, think of it like underneath the train there's a two strip, there's a strip on each side, it has to be balanced. And these tires will come up and connect underneath, and then they will just spin at extremely high speed, very high acceleration, and that is what propels the carriage forward. So that's what they do on Superman Escape, they accelerate you from 0 to 100 or 0 to zero to 60 K's an hour in two seconds using a tyre launch. And the lift hill, there is no lift hill because you're not being lifted on the hill. You're being shot up the hill by a launch mechanism. So that's another really cool thing that some of the rides do, which is cool. - Some of them are doing some cool stuff with electromagnets too. - Yes, there are some that do electromagnetic launch, which is also kind of cool. And the other thing I had down to just quickly mention is, I talk about circuit designs and so on, but this is like shuttle. Shuttle is another option. So if you have a roller coaster that goes at full circuit, it goes full circuit, but there are other cases where it doesn't go full circuit. It actually just goes up and back. So they call that a shuttle design. So the Titan, for example, at Expo '88, the first roller coaster I ever saw up close, never went on it, thanks glue buddy. It's still not better. Basically it has two lift hills. So one lift hill on one side. So you basically, you get on a carriage in the middle of the roller coaster track. And what it does is it winches you up one side of a lift hill and you get to the top. And at that point it then lets you go and you go backwards. So as you go backwards through the ride, it then goes and takes you through a couple of loops reverse and you know screw or corkscrew or whatever else barrel roll like you were saying and then whatever momentum is left gets you part of the way up the lift hill on the other side of the track. Yep. And then what they do is it grabs the carriage and pulls it the rest of the way to the top and then lets you go and you go through the same thing but in the other direction and then eventually it lets you stop back in the middle again. So they call that like a shuttle design so So it's not actually a circuit or a loop. And the reason they did that at Expo '88 with the Titan was because of space restrictions because Expo '88 was very long and narrow and the amusement area was actually quite small. So it didn't have many rides and a very small, it was a very small space to work with. That's why they do shuttle designs generally, but anyway. So the only other thing I had down my list to talk about was injury risk. Some things people say to you, they say weird things. "Oh, I'd never go on roller coasters because," and all sorts of reasons. But one of them is, "Oh, they're dangerous." And every now and then you hear about people that get killed or injured on a roller coaster. So why would you voluntarily put yourself in that position? Well, to keep these rides safe, they have very highly specialized people doing inspections and they inspect these rides every day. And in detail, they'll do them periodically or once a month, once every three or six months. And they'll get the ride certified by a very, especially qualified engineer, mechanical engineer that looks over the rides, looks for stress fractures, cracking and all that other good stuff. And as a result of the very strict safety requirements for these rides at the big theme parks, you basically have a one in one half a billion chance of being fatally injured at an amusement park as a whole. And the problem is splitting a statistic out like that to specifically roller coasters versus other thrill rides, it's quite difficult. But you basically get one and one half a billion chance. So pretty unlikely. You're far more likely to get hit by a bus crossing the street, which is far, far more likely. So anyway, there you go. So roller coasters, what do you think? I like them. Yeah, that's it. Yeah, that's it. A lot of people do and I love them and I've always wanted to just talk about them. I don't have a huge amount to say, but I guess my other thing about roller coasters and this is just because I'm me and I'm a control systems engineer as well, is that I'll go there and I'll be sitting on the coaster and I'm looking at the control panel and I'm looking at it and I'm looking at all the lights and I'm looking at the track and I'm looking at the the inductive switches and the capacitive switches, and I'm looking at the brake pad solenoids and the launch motors, and I'm like, "Damn it, they're using a bloody Alan Bradley panel view over there." God, I hate panel views. And I'm sitting there and my wife's next to me on this one, we were on the cyclone, I'm like, "Oh God, I can't believe they're still using bulbs for the lights instead of LED indicator lamps. And she looked at me and she's like, can you please punch out? We're having fun. I'm sorry. But anyway, yes. So and there's another time actually, I remember I was coming off the Tower of Terror and the Tower of Terror was having an alignment problem with their inductive proximity switches. And what happens with that is that as the car comes back in, so the way the Tower of Terror works is you get launched facing backwards and you come out of this really long tunnel and then you go up a 90, sorry, a 90 degree curve and then you go straight up. So you basically go on straight up, you're looking straight down at the ground and you got very, very high. And then it lets then gravity just brings you right back down again. And as you get down, you go into the tunnel at breakneck speed. and it then applies the brakes and slows you down and brings you back to where you started. - Yep. - Now, when that happens, there's a series of interlocks in the program that's looking for a couple of tags, like physical steel tags on the bottom of the coaster. So as the coaster comes into the park position, it says, "Unless my coaster is parked in this position, do not release the overhead over shoulder safety clamps over all the people in the carriage. So you try and lift those up to get out. You can't until it's fully parked in position. Seems to make sense, right? I mean, you wouldn't want people to open those up on the ride. That would be bad. So anyway, all makes sense, right? Until your proxies are a little bit off. And what was happening is the proxies were a little bit off. And so what would happen is it would come in and the way the code was written and the proxies were off, they needed to be realigned slightly. Something had bumped them or something. and it came into stop and we're trying to get out. And it's like, oh, hold on folks. We're just going to have to back you out and bring you back in again. Sometimes that just fixes the problem. And I'm like, just fix the alignment of the prox already and stop making it an edge trigger. You know, cause you've probably got an edge trigger on that prox sensor. It shouldn't be an edge trigger. It should be like a, it should be like an off delay timer. And I'm sitting there going through all the things I would do in the code to fix that in the PLC for the ride. And I'm just sitting there and I'm like, no, it's not working folks. We're gonna have to bring you back in again. So they like reversed us out just really slowly, like inch out, inch out, inch out, and then inch back, inch back, inch back, inch back, until it would actually see the pulse on the inductive prox to say, I'm now in the parked position and let us unlock the latches so we can actually get out of the carriages. Took them about three or four goes and we finally got out. And as I get off the ride, I'm bending my neck over to have a look at the inductive prox. And my wife's grabbing my arm saying, "Stop it!" I'm sorry. Yeah. Of all the things I'd love to program, I would seriously love to program a coaster. That would be so cool. It's highly specialized, though, so it's sort of hard to get into it. I've heard rumors that there are some automation contractors in South East Queensland that have picked up work with the local theme parks, but they've picked up work mainly because the normal contractors that they use are too busy doing other things like around the world. So you'll have a bunch of these coaster programmers that just go all around the world to all the different theme parks. So, and they'll just write the code for the different, you know, different thing, 'cause it's a whole bunch of like customized things. It's highly specific, you know, so like the different block sections and the launch methods that they have and the interlocking for the position controls, the releases for the overhead harness. I kept calling it, that's the word I've been searching for, harnesses. You know, all that stuff is all highly specialized and only really applies to roller coasters. So I can write a control system for, you know, a conveyor belt, but that's all conveyor belts, it's just conveyor belts, right? But these are, this is highly specialized. Kind of like railway signaling, it's highly specialized. So I can't just wander up and say, "I'd like to program your roller coaster." can totally trust me. Yeah, that's probably not good. Probably not. Probably wouldn't want to do that without a little bit of, I'd want someone to review my work. What's that? Stop the coaster? Stop it. Damn it, it didn't stop. Anyway, whoops. Never mind that. Oh Oh dear. Anyway, so that's all I had on roller coasters. What do you reckon? Does it make you want to go on a coaster? It does. Me too. Me too. Want to go back to the theme park or my theme park? We had annual passes and we let them lapse because they were getting a bit expensive. I'm like, no, that's enough. Yeah. So we're going to have a break from. Yeah. Well, you got to if you're going to do the pass thing, you got to really go to get your value out of it. Yeah, exactly. That was our problem is that we weren't making enough time to go. So we kind of stopped going and that was unfortunately that. And so it came time to renew and we got a good deal on them like a year ago. And it's like, they're switching to monthly payments. They're jacking the price up and we're like, I'm not interested in that. So we killed that. That was that. I usually go, we might take a trip to the amusement park once every couple of years at the most. When I was younger, we used to go a little more frequently. Mom was a huge roller coaster fan. So we would go at least every other year we would take a trip. And a lot of years we would go every year we take a trip over the summer. As an adult, though, I don't go quite as often. Yeah. Do you say the kids give you an excuse to go? Somewhat, yeah, but just, I don't know, busy life. Yeah. Now, like I said, the thing with us is that any one trip to a theme park can get quite expensive. They can. Yeah. I mean, it's not just admission. It's also the food and drinks and everything there is really, really expensive. Well, and for us, like the closest one, we're looking at an hour and a half drive usually just to get there and to get home after. Yeah. So, it's about an hour and a bit for us. So, it's not too much further. Sorry. It's not too much further. But it's still, it is a little bit of an imposition. But we only really, we got the theme park, the annual passes and it was great value at the time, so I'm special, but yeah, it just, it gets quite, it gets quite pricey after a while. So we sort of go through phases and maybe we'll keep an eye out if they come on special again in another year or two, we might get some more passes. - Yeah. - See how we go. I've often thought if I went, I say if, when I go back to the States, so I'd love to come back to the States again. I want to take the the kids over and you know go to Disney World Because I didn't go to Disney World. I went to Disneyland in Anaheim Yeah, but I hear Disney World is much better, so I'm gonna go Disney World with the kids I've actually never been to either of the Disney places Traveling I've been to a Kings Island. It's not it's like an hour and a half away from me It's it's near Cincinnati, Ohio. It's the big city. It's near technically a Mason, Ohio but most people just consider it Cincinnati. Well, people that aren't from there. But, uh, and then there's another one, uh, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, which is in Louisville. Is it Louisville or Louisville? I don't know how to pronounce it. Uh, well, it's written as Louisville. Most people say Louisville. I'm not sure which is correct. Louisville? Mm-hmm. No, I'll just, I'll, I mean, your, I'll go with your pronunciation because it's, Yeah, your neck of the woods. Most people around here say Louisville. So I don't I've never heard anybody say Louisville. That's fine. And if anyone's curious, it's Brisbane, not Brisbane. I have heard some people mistakenly say Louisville. Yeah, no, I knew that wasn't what it was. But anyway, oh, dear. And Melbourne, it's Melbourne, not Melbourne. Yeah. But anyway, I'm just I'm just correcting anyone who's North American that's listening because I got you to hear that a lot. You know, when I was to Brisbane, I had a stopover in Melbourne. I'm like, "Okay, that's fine." I mean, I know what you mean, but that's just not how we say it. Anyway, it's all good. Accents, what can we do? And Aussie's mangle English worse probably statistically, who knows? Anyway, all right, good, lovely. So, if you want to talk more about this, you can reach me on Twitter @JohnChidjee or you can follow at Pragmatic Show to specifically see show announcements and other related stuff. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network and it also has an account at engineered_net and it has show announcements about the network and all the shows actually and you can check them all out at the website People are really loving Causality. It's a solo podcast that I do. It looks at cause and effect of major events in history. So if you're a fan of this show, you might also like it. I've also launched recently another show called Analytical. So if you love Pragmatic, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy it as well. Both the shows are about 15, 30 minutes each, so they're pretty easy on the ears and don't take too much of your time. Make sure you check them out. If you'd like to get in touch with Vic, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you, mate? They can find me on Twitter @vichudson1. Fantastic. And if you'd like to send me feedback about the show or the network, please use a feedback form on the website. That's the little email icon if you're ever wondering. And that's where you'll also find the show notes for this episode. If you are enjoying Pragmatic and you want to support the show, you can. Like one of our backers, Chris Stone, he and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon. And you can find it at, all one word. So if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, it's all very, very much appreciated. So a special thank you to all of our patrons, and a big thank you to everyone for listening. And, as always, thank you Vic. Thank you for having me John. Always a pleasure. Let's go ride some coasters. All right. [music] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC] [Music] doing it have you done it yet have I done what yet couldn't a coaster in the 30 seconds since I asked no I told you it was an hour and a half away John god damn it sorry where's your TARDIS getting your damn TARDIS do some do this from time travel man if only
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Vic Hudson

Vic Hudson

Vic is the host of the App Story Podcast and is the developer behind Money Pilot for iOS.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.