Software behind coasters

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This is something I've been quite interested in - but never really have looked into it. Coasters obviously have some sort of software behind it to keep track of all the ride's systems, but what level of complexity is it? Do coasters run off small microcontrollers, or are the computer systems behind them a lot larger? Do manufacturers hire programmers to create the software for the coasters, or do they use external companies to do this? Are the software systems for different coasters very similar, or very different? What are the typical languages behind a coaster's software? How does the software for a coaster differ from say a flat ride or dark ride? You'd think the software would have to be pretty efficient to constantly keep track of everything the ride is doing and find any faults as they rise. Where else is software used heavily from within a theme park?

But yeah, does anyone know anything about this? I'm currently studying software engineering, so I would love to know a bit more about this side of coasters.

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Most if not all (some early electronic controls used relay logic) run off Industrial PLCs(programmable logic controllers). 


Roller coasters have more more in common with your standard automated assembly line in a factory than anything else when it comes to control systems. Many manufacturers use Allen Bradley/Rockwell Automation as their preferred brand of gear. 

You'll find most coaster manufactures use a preferred sub contractor for their controls. For instance Intamin use Inautec. RMC often use Irvine Ondrey, S&S actually do their own. Disney also build all their own control systems for their rides regardless of who supplies them. 


They em are all programmed in simple but highly dependable Ladder Logic with each manufacturer of equipment, AB, Siemens, Mitsubishi, etc, having their own proprietary software to do so. 


Previously coasters would use multiple PLCs wired together for error checking and redundancy however recently most people have changed over to using a single Safety Rated PLC as these have become more economical and flexible. 


A dark ark ride will typically operate the same for vehicle control (basically anything that can kill you) and a seperate system will control the show elements. This may include more PLCs but also likely audio, video, lighting controllers as well which usually come out of the theatrical/entertainment industry. 

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I guess it depends on the age of the attraction, and the complexity of the ride control system, as well as what safety features are built into it as well.

For example, this is the block ladder listing from a 1984 family woodie, operated by a westinghouse numa-logic PLC controller.

Naturally more modern rides would have more modern features, and probably be driven by a lot more complicated systems as well - especially since they do much more than just roll, and coast these days.

I'm not sure if he's still around, but at one stage, one of the forum members here was involved with the relocation of the boomerang from Wonderland to Alabama Adventure, and knew alot about both that at the SP7 (giant drop) ride systems. Can't remember who it was though...?

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A lot of ride manufacturers just use the Allen-Bradley computer systems.  They can control everything from theming cues to brakes and safety.  Google 'Rockwell Automation'.

It makes sense for Manufacturers to use an industry-standard system, because it means the park's in-house maintenance staff can maintain the rides and trouble-shoot any issues because everything is compatible.

B&M uses Allen-Bradley PLCs.

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Further to the block ladder logic I posted above, heres some additional info on translating it:

CRxxxx is a coil reference - which are outputs.

INxxxx are inputs.

So for example:


CR0133 IN0041 IN0047 CR0129! -]\[----] [----]\[----------------------------------------( )-!

this ladder logic says if coil 133 is on and input 41 is off and input 47 is on then turn on coil 129

a coil being a relay coil, relay contacts would switch the load, like the lift motor, air valve etc...

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