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Roller coasters add virtual reality for high-tech thrills

Amusement parks looking to add more thrills are turning to tech. Several Six Flags parks are adding virtual reality to give roller coasters a whole new dimension.

Take the Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell, Georgia. Not only does the ride have a 95-foot ascent, a vertical drop, and dive loop, but now it has the distinction of being the first virtual reality roller coaster in North America.

"It really kind of takes you away, like you're in a completely different place as opposed to just being on a roller coaster," roller coaster rider Michael Fox told CNET's Lexy Savvides.

How does it work? Participants wear a Samsung Gear VR headset that hides their outside surroundings and immerses them in an alternate, digital world.

"You look straight ahead and the Samsung Gear VR headset actually 'Bluetooths' to a box inside the roller coaster," said Gene Petriello, communications manager for the park, explaining the wireless connection. "So, as soon as you leave the station, you are now a co-pilot in a fighter jet set out to save mankind."

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Some Six Flags amusement parks are adding virtual reality to the roller coaster experience. CNET

As you hurtle down the tracks and loop around on the ride, you can't see the person next to you or what's coming next. This can actually be good for those who are afraid of heights.

"I didn't have the same fear of heights, it actually took you more through the buildings and city so it was a different, unique feel," one rider named Lori said.

The videos created for the virtual reality coaster are tailored for each and every ride, synchronizing with the coaster's moves and the rider's location on the track. Even if you're seated in the back, you still get that front-row perspective.

"So, when the roller coaster goes upside down when you're on it, experiencing it normally, the video that you're looking at in your headset goes upside down, too," Petriello said.

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A side-by-side look at how the ride appears in reality versus virtual reality, through the headset. CNET

What is crucial is that the timing is perfect so as not to make the rider feel disoriented.

"It was really good. It kind of made me dizzy with the goggles," Yesenia Sanchez, another rider, added.

Six Flags said it plans to expand virtual reality rides to at least nine of its parks. The next VR coaster will open at Magic Mountain in Southern California. The first VR coaster in the world opened in England's Alton Towers in March, ushering in a new high-tech approach to thrill rides.

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