Alec Watson is the creator of the YouTube channel “Technology Creations”. His videos are all worth a watch, as they get into the fascinating details of how technology, and sometimes quite old technology, really works.
Today I watched his video on how roller coaster design balances the economic need to have a high throughput of riders while at the same time making it safe for what Alec calls “fragile and litigious human beings”!
He began describing the challenges of achieving high ridership in Space Mountain when the trains only have six seats each. Since the trains are basically ballistic, i.e. once you run them up to the top of the course they are careening down to the bottom, the simplest way to make them safe is to only run one on the track at the time. For a two and half minute run, this would mean you could only run six riders through every two and a half minutes, or a paltry 144 riders an hour.
One quick win is to employ Inventive Principle – Segmentation. Space Mountain operates two tracks simultaneously, doubling throughput. Disney takes segmenting a step further and divides the tracks by adding brake runs at key points. If a train is at risk of being rear-ended, all the trains behind it are stopped at safe intervals. These same brake runs can be used to “pump the brakes” a bit to slow a train if it starts to crowd the one in front.
Big Thunder Mountain, another Disney ride, applies segmentation in a different way. Rather than using a single lift hill at the start of the ride, they use three separate lift hills. This means that the train reaches each lift hill with a minimum of kinetic energy and the ride designers can slow or even stop the lift chain if the train is crowding the one in front.