A video spread like wildfire in numerous virtual reality and attractions groups and pages on the internet. It showed a three-axis, motion-based virtual reality ride spinning smoothly, almost mystifyingly, with a man inside a cabinet appearing to be wearing a VR headset. I sat down with CEO of EnterIdeas, Igor Mendzebrovskiy, to find out more about the attraction that has been generating buzz on the internet. Astronauts, virtual reality and Star Wars – this is the story behind the AT360.
I was a big fan of Star Wars as a kid. Well, I still am. I was really fascinated by the symbolic TIE fighters – this was my first “reach-for-the-stars” moment. – Igor Mendzebrovskiy.
Introducing the AT360 – the world’s first three-axis 360° VR ride
You step into a cabinet inside a gyroscope-looking circular apparatus. You put on a VR headset, the Oculus Quest to be precise, and you’re immediately placed in the heart of the action – a journey where zombies and other monsters swipe at you while you make your way through obstacles and avoiding missiles. Or you could become a pilot for a few minutes as you twist, turn, loop and nosedive with all the freedom in the world.
This is the AT360 – a VR ride that blends the virtual with reality and creates a sense of “hyperreality“, where the simulation of reality seems more real than reality itself, a concept coined and theorised by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard.
This lively attempt to spearhead hyperreality in rides and attractions has been an ongoing effort by Igor Mendzebrovskiy, the CEO of EnterIdeas – a company with a range of projects ranging from HealthTech to Entertainment. I caught him at a time when the AT360 had just upgraded to a new version.
Reaching for the stars – literally
Now based primarily in Jacksonville, Florida, Igor’s first steps in the world of startups began by reaching for the stars in his native Novosibirsk, Russia. Not in the cliché Entrepreneurship 101 in high school type of way, but by viewing stars and galaxies in the world of planetariums and full-dome projector systems – finding their applications in the entertainment industry and experimenting with VR.
“While I gained a valuable perspective about the needs and wants of customers in the VR industry, it didn’t work out”, he told me. “I needed something tangible; I wanted an experience where the sensation of movement was still physically present. Planetariums were limited in that regard, not to mention that their market potential in Russia was low”.
He looked elsewhere. In the early 2010s, virtual reality was re-gaining traction with the release of Oculus, but he still had his sights on the classics of physical rides and attractions; roller coasters, arcades and thrill rides. “Then something clicked. I realized that I could incorporate the VR dimension with the physical and attempt to create something new”. During the same period, however, he was approached by the ultimate star reachers in regard to a related, yet different, matter.
Working with astronauts
Standing out is difficult, no matter the industry, and so he set out to create something truly unique. He studied gyroscopes, motion-based systems and developed model after model to find the one. In 2013, he finally launched the first stationary model that would be called the “AT360” – meaning an attraction in 360 degrees. Simplicity is the key to success, they say. But the model itself was far from simple and had not reached its final form.
“At this stage, we were generating a lot of interest in the tech and startup scene in Novosibirsk – we became part of the Akademgorodok business incubator and were in turn contacted by men in suits”. No, not men-in-black types of suits, but the suits you would need to shoot up into space. These were astronauts, or cosmonauts as they are typically known in Russia.
“They were looking to develop a type of connection part that would allow for smooth transition between modules in the transport craft”. But this is where bureaucracy slowed down their efforts and made the collaboration difficult. “Since we were working with high-level contacts, it was difficult to find the right flexibility that we needed. We were a startup and worked in a dynamic environment. Rigid procedures did not suit us at all, so we moved away from it”.
A world champion aerobatics sports pilot comes to visit
While he worked on other successive VR projects, the AT360 became the flagship and it was in the latter half of the 2010s when the attraction was really crafted into a prospective option in the North American direction. VR rides were gaining prominence and he was ready to capture its market potential. This was realized after the AT360 appeared on the most important global attractions industry trade show – IAAPA Expo. Receiving great feedback from industry opinion leaders, such as Bob Cooney, now was the time to strike. However, in 2020 everything would change – on a global scale.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the direction westwards stalled and the company was cornered into thinking outside of the box by looking at how to remain competitive in an industry that took a nosedive. “At this point we were looking at different approaches to our VR ride, and so an opportunity presented itself”. This opportunity came in the form of one of the top aerobatics sports pilots in the world – Mikhail Mamistov.
“We understood that we could be flexible with our attraction. As we did, and are doing with Mikhail, we came to recognize that our attraction could have a host of different applications – from gaming to flight simulators”. But as the entertainment industry gets back on its feet, the AT360 is once again spring boarding from its Jacksonville HQ, aspiring to serve the US market.
The entertainment industry is facing numerous challenges. How is the AT360 planning to face them?
“To start, we’ve developed a new model that was recently assembled in our technical HQ. This new version is faster, more agile and definitely more dynamic. We remodelled it while retaining the safety and security which remains our top priority. The second point is our USP (unique selling point). We are aware of the previous work of Sega (R360), but our three-axis VR-ride is truly one-of-a-kind as it takes the best of the virtual and reality where we attempt to drive the new state of hyperreality”.
AT360 – driving the new wave of hyperreality attractions?
Igor’s last point is noteworthy as Jean Baudrillard’s concept of “hyperreality” has gained further interest with advancements in technology. When you enter the cabinet of the AT360, you are immediately transported to a world where the motion, vibration and surrounding landscape is so real and authentic that you forget about the one outside. While hyperreality remains difficult to achieve in practice with current limits of technology, it is safe to say that the AT360 and the new wave of VR rides, advance its possibilities.
“We are definitely ready to take VR rides to the next level and we’re excited to bring the AT360 to the US and, ultimately, to all regions of the world” – Igor Mendzebrovskiy
At Evolvera, we will continue to follow the story of the AT360 and Igor Mendzebrovskiy’s journey.
Evolvera – evolve in the new era.