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  • 04.04.17

This Empathetic Carnival Ride Slows Down If You Get Too Scared

Step right up to the Neurotransmitter 3000–a thrill ride that listens to your body and responds.

We’ve all stood in line, looking up at a towering roller coaster, suddenly unsure of ourselves: Will this ride be too intense? Will it push beyond the bounds of scary-but-safe enjoyment into heart palpitations and unbridled fear? If only that ride could listen to you and respond, keeping the intensity at the perfect sweet spot.

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That’s the premise behind Neurotrasmitter 3000, a wild contraption by artist and designer Daniel de Bruin highlighted by Prosthetic Knowledge, that crosses a homemade amusement ride with a suite of biometric tools to measure your physiological response to the experience. “Normally in a thrill ride you have to surrender yourself to the man behind the buttons,” says de Bruin. “But now your body is in control.”

Before riding the Neurotransmitter 3000, you clip a pulse rate sensor to your ear, stick muscle tension sensors onto your left arm, and fit a thermometer under your armpit. And as it begins to spin you around its daunting 22-foot diameter, like some tortuous cross between a catapult and hamster wheel, these measurements feed into the machine, its motor slowing and speeding up to match your comfort.

“First you have to hit a moment when your body feels uncomfortable to get your heart pumping, and then you feel the machine reacting on that and gives you time to adapt,” says de Bruin. “It’s strange to feel such a big machine is kind of emotionally connected with you.”

[Photo: courtesy Daniel de Bruin]
When de Bruin’s heart is pumping around 80 beats per minute, the machine spins him around at full speed. But at 130, its speed will begin to drop. He can also pull hard on an onboard strap, which offers him a manual override as necessary.

The project is an evolution of an idea de Bruin introduced in 2015 with his “analog” 3D printer, covered here on Co.Design, which sought to blur the lines between the artist and his machines. This artistic field of inquiry is also one of the hottest trends in design today, whether at Microsoft, which is thinking about interfaces that could adapt to the day-to-day differences in users’ cognitive abilities, or at MIT, which is designing industrial robots that can be turned off in emergencies with nothing more than a human thought. In a world in which we’re surrounded by ever more machines, it’s necessary that those machines understand not just what we objectively do or say, but how we really feel.

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Meanwhile, De Bruin would like to up the ante on the Neurotransmitter 3000, but he hasn’t yet determined how. In the meantime, he’s hoping his approach to thrills could catch on: “I would love to see the big amusement parks do something with biometrical data. and give a personal touch to their rides,” he says. And we couldn’t agree more–for the kids, of course. For the kids.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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