Insight to YourDay

Alton Towers News, from TowersNerd.com

Read our in-depth report, offering an insight into the making of YourDay, and where it is heading in the future. Saturday, 4th October, 2008 - YourDay is a revolutionary step in the personalised souvenir market. For many years on-ride photography has been the only choice for theme park visitors to capture the experiences of their day. In recent years a handful of theme parks around the world have added on-ride video to some of their bigger attractions, allowing guests to view themselves on the ride for the duration of the circuit. While this is a big step to make from a single frame picture, it still only shows one aspect of your experience, and more often than not is only available to those who ride the bigger white knuckle rides.

While on-ride video is still in it's infancy, the next step has already been taken, a step that could be considered ahead of it's time, that step is YourDay. YourDay offers the guests a chance to capture their whole day around the park in a way that cannot be found anywhere else in the world but Alton Towers. Even hiring your own camera crew to follow you around the park, would not achieve the same quality product that YourDay offer, as many of the cameras are found in areas inaccessible to park guests, giving a truly unique and exciting record of your day at the park.

To truly appreciate what YourDay is you have to go back to it's beginnings. The concept of YourDay was first imagined many years ago, but the system was far ahead of its time and would not be able to be implemented economically until years later. The proposed system used RFID technology encompassed in a wristband, to flag when a visitor had passed a sensor placed at or near the ride station. The system would then know almost exactly at what time the ride vehicle would be passing the cameras placed around the circuit, allowing accurate editing to take place. While the proposed system was innovative itself, the method in which the footage was to be filmed and implemented onto the DVD was a revolutionary proposal. The final product would consist of professionally filmed footage of the entire park, encompassing many more sights and sounds than just the rides featured on the system. The guests' personalised footage would then be edited into the movie at regular intervals, making it appear that the whole movie was completely personal to the guest. The whole system was patented ensuring that only YourDay are able to offer a personalised movie, using both stock and personal footage within a theme park.

Alton Towers granted YourDay a contract to proceed with installation in early 2006, after YourDay approached them with the proposal, which at the time was based on a completely theoretical system. YourDay chose Alton Towers as their first target as it has always strived to be the first to bring the latest in attraction technology to the park, with past achievements of Oblivion; the World's first vertical drop roller coaster and Air; the first new generation flying coaster. Using software created in India, the team started to put together mathematical algorithms to calculate the timings of each proposed ride, so that the footage filmed could be edited accurately onto the guests' DVD. On July 21st 2006, filming of the stock footage to be used in the final DVD was started. Filming of the rides to be included in the line up was done very carefully, so that there were no clear views of the riders and very little shots of the sky, to provide a seamless effect when guests' footage was added to it. It focussed on four actors that played the part of a group visiting the park, shots which were eventually going to be replaced with the shots of the guests. During this filming period, many rides were filmed with a view to include them in the final product, but due to a number of different reasons four rides were dropped, leaving the final eight. The rides that were not included were Runaway Mine Train, which was involved in an accident the day before shooting began and remained closed until the following year, which ruled out its involvement in YourDay. Hex was disregarded due to the footage ruining the illusion of the ride and the use of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was opposed by the Dahl foundation. Finally, Duel was removed form the line up as it stood out as being the only dark ride featuring in the movie. The final line up would be made up of Air, Congo River Rapids, Corkscrew, the Flume, Nemesis, Oblivion, Rita : Queen of Speed & Spinball Whizzer. Four locations were also picked around the park and cameras installed to capture guests walking around. These are referred to as 'pinch-points' as they are all areas where the path narrows, therefore ensuing that guests are in the shots, and that their wristbands are also picked up.

During the 2006/2007 closed season, six kilometres of 24 strand fibre-optic cable was laid at a depth of 1.5 metres below the park. This is the base of the network of cameras, sensors and computers used to create the final product. Over 100 RFID sensors were placed both at the beginning of the ride circuits and also at the pinch points around the park. Thirty-six cameras were installed, thirty-one featuring on the eight rides and a further five at the four pinch-points around the park.

Your Day was to debut in April 2007 just after the official start of the season. However, problems with securing the shop and office premises meant that the launch was delayed. The shop that YourDay currently occupies was in use by Alton Towers as administrative offices. Before YourDay was allowed to take over the site, the neighbouring offices were required to be refurbished for the existing Alton Towers staff to move into. Once YourDay was granted access to the site, the renovation process began, including the opening of the front of the building to allow access to the shop from Towers Street. At this time the implementation of the main server room was started, which would be home to the majority of systems, ~140 servers.

All these delays led to YourDay officially opening on August 12th 2007, although the initial offering only included Corkscrew, Nemesis, Rita : Queen of Speed & Spinball Whizzer, leaving four rides off the planned line up. Due to the nature of the remaining rides, some technical problems ensued meaning that the accuracy of the timings was not high enough for the YourDay team to be happy with offering it to the public. Soon after both Air & Oblivion were introduced to the line up leaving just the two water rides, which would prove to be a much bigger task to bring online than the other rides.

Now that YourDay had launched, the next challenge was to make people aware of it. The big problem the team at YourDay faced was that most people arriving at the theme park just want to get to the rides, leaving little chance for the team to hand out the wristbands as well as actually being able to inform the guests what they actually do. In its early days, YourDay's presence on park was fairly minimal; the shop was open but there were very few members of staff creating awareness. Once the line up was boosted by Air and Oblivion, the numbers of staff handing out wristbands increased considerably and advertising posters around park and on televisions in the monorail stations created a general awareness of what the product was. In its first two months of sales YourDay DVDs doubled to 4% of visitors to the park making a purchase.

YourDay's first season in operation at Alton Towers ended on a high, the IAPPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) awarded YourDay with the Honourable Mention for New Technology at the 2007 Expo in Orlando, Florida, at which YourDay were exhibitors.

When the 2008 season opened, YourDay's presence on park had yet again increased with new posters in place, with a clear message of "It's your day. And you're the Star!" One of the main things that guests had commented on when buying a DVD is that they were unable to see what it was like. The many screens in the YourDay shop constantly show the stock video, but many guests found it difficult to relate it with what their final personalised product would look like. So in order to boost guest confidence and provide an improved service, each point of sale was fitted with an additional screen that allows the guests to preview a small clip of their personal footage of each ride. In an effort to increase the range that was on offer, a new staggered price structure was introduced depending on the number of rides the guest wished to purchase. This move is particularly useful for guests that visit in the busy summer months, when ride queue times can reach peak levels, which may mean that the guests do not get to ride all the rides on the DVD, and therefore allows them to purchase all the rides they did manage to ride but without paying the full day DVD price. Another new feature added in 2008 is the ability to add two wristbands together, which previously was not possible, but listening to the customers YourDay has now implemented this into their system. These additions have allowed YourDay to improve their service to the park guests and in turn see a positive reaction in their sales. Also from feedback from hotel guests, all the recorded footage and data is now held for 72 hours, meaning those guests on short break at the hotels or local accommodation visiting the park over a number of days can now use the same wristband throughout their visit and still be able to buy a DVD featuring footage from their first day along with their second and third, if they wish.

While all of the above was happening, work had been continuing on the two remaining rides absent form the line up. Both Congo River Rapids and the Flume hold a lot more varying factors compared to the existing YourDay ride line up. Where roller coasters complete their circuit in a time that varies very little, once they have crested the lift hill, water rides may change the speed they go round depending on the water volume in the course, the number and weight of guests riding in the boats, and in the rapids case the time it spends in the small rapids section of the course, which again can greatly vary. To remedy this problem, the YourDay team looked to a hardware solution, which uncontrollably resulted in a delay to the two water rides becoming active. For the Flume each boat is fitted with a transmitter in the front of the boat that triggers new sensors placed around the circuit, which tell the YourDay system exactly where the boat is on the circuit and therefore allows the footage to be accurately edited into the movie. In the case of the rapids, each boat had to be fitted with three transmitters around the circumference, this would mean that at the sensor points around the course there would be at least one transmitter close enough to trigger the sensor.

The Flume became active on YourDay on July 31st 2008 and the Congo River Rapids followed shortly after on August 29th 2008. The solution implemented on both the Flume and Congo River Rapids has worked extremely well, providing a very accurate timing for each camera and really capturing the best moments of the rides.

This brings us up to the present, the YourDay offering at Alton Towers is now complete after many years of hard work by those involved and many obstacles experienced, which is all part and parcel of a brand new technology. The future at Alton Towers is hopefully very bright. The first installation will always have its troubles, but the YourDay team have tackled those head on and have successfully delivered what they set out to do. A new wristband is being introduced into the system very soon, and although the actual wristbands look identical, the RFID chip inside has changed, which will improve the range that can be afforded between the wristband and sensor. The 2008/2009 closed season will see the research and possible implementation of a download service and other possible media introduced to the current offering, and further down the line, new rides may be added to the system. There's no doubt that YourDay has been a success, it took a brave step away from the established systems that can be found around the world, and offered up a truly unique and entertaining product that can continue to grow as the park does.

At this point it's necessary to point out that YourDay is separate from Alton Towers. Although it operates in Alton Towers it is not run by them, so what exactly is in store for YourDay in the future? Now is possibly one of the most exciting times for YourDay, the past two and a half years have been spent concentrating on bringing the Alton Towers implementation to full effect. Now it has been proven that YourDay can deliver what they promise, the possibilities are endless. As exhibitors at the IAPPA Expo in 2007, they not only won the New Technology Award as previously mentioned, but they also gained a lot of interest from a number of different parks around the world. So in the future you could be able to purchase a YourDay DVD while you are visiting a park on holiday, and there is also the natural assumption that YourDay would make the step into Alton's sister parks Thorpe Park, Chessington & Legoland. Whatever happens the future looks very promising for them.

The Team here at Towers Nerd would like to thank Phil Heede (Operations Director) and Claire Scaramanga (Marketing Consultant) for their kind invitation to see what goes on behind the scenes at YourDay. Much of the information used in this article was provided during our time with them, and without, this article would not have been possible.

Both Phil and Claire took part in an interview which can be heard in our one of our podcasts (http://towersnerd.com/features/podcast/episode.php?id=18), which is available to download now. Again we would like to thank Phil and Claire for their participation in this, and we wish them and YourDay the best of luck in the future.

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