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Factory robot retooled as amusement park ride

Family fun with a mechanized spot welder? Get ready to twist and turn, says a German robot manufacturer. Photos: Riding the Robocoaster

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
A robot originally designed for the factory floor has found a lucrative career moonlighting at amusement parks.

The Robocoaster from Germany's Kuka Roboter is a modified version of one of the company's industrial robots that spins, flips, twirls and swings two people through space with a gigantic arm.

Robocoaster at work

"Anyone who can build cars, stack pallets, or pour metal can also whirl two people through the air on a double seat," the company literature proclaims.

As an added twist, riders can program their ride, so if you want to do two forward rolls followed by a spin your first turn on the machine, and then a series of ululations leading into a short free fall the next time around, you can.

"If you want a ride that only spins you upside down, that is what you can do," said Kevin Kozuszek, marketing manager for Kuka Robot Group in the United States.

Around 20 have been installed at amusement parks in the U.S. and Europe. Legolands in Denmark and California have around four to six of the systems each.

While industrial robots have been around for years, inventors and investors have become more excited in the past few years about the possibility of an expanded market for robotics.

The product is the brainstorm of one of Kuka's European employees, Kozuszek said. Kuka's industrial robots exhibit a wide range of motion, and can move fairly rapidly and carry a substantial amount of weight. The employee surmised that if the company attached a roller-coaster seat to the end of the arm, it would simulate the motions of a roller coaster.

The Robocoaster ride lasts about one to two minutes. Before getting on, riders select the motions they would like on their ride from a preset menu. There are four basis motions: left-to-right; up-and-down; horizontal spinning (like spinning on your heels); and vertical spinning (head-over-heels).

Kuka has deployed two-seaters and a four-seater ride is under development.

The military is also examining ways to adapt the robot for flight-simulation training for pilots.

"You could line up several robots to do the same work as the big chamber" now used for flight simulation, Kozuszek said.