Riding the Rails - Replicating a Locomotive

Melding digital with electro-mechanical

The Norfolk Southern Corporation was only seven weeks away from opening its new railroad museum when management decided that the quality of the locomotive simulator exhibit did not meet their expectations. Perfect Prototype was brought in to create an interactive exhibit that would give visitors the experience of operating a locomotive.

Experiencing the Experience
Perfect Prototype spent two days riding with a conductor and engineer to get an upfront education on the complexities of running a train. The group then translated that information and insights into a:

  • creative concept
  • treatment
  • multimedia plan
  • schemata for electronics, mechanicals, and programming.

Next, we modified an actual locomotive control stand (right off a GP-40) into a user-friendly device by stripping it of extraneous components and color-coding and backlighting basic controls. Then, we rewired the stand, digitized the signals, linked the stand with the CPU; and programmed software to synchronize the mechanicals with the visuals.

Teaching and giving the user control
The team also selected and framed a plasma screen to replace the front window in the scaled-down museum locomotive and, using 3-D, give the effect of riding the rails through rural and urban settings.

Users regulate the animation (train speed) from the control stand as a conductor’s voice guides and educates. Controls light up to match the conductor’s instructions. The user then takes full-control and repeats the ride while the narrator occasionally supplies interesting facts.

The project came in on time, on budget, and met the expectations of both the client and Perfect Prototype.

And there was more
Given the project’s success, the client hired Perfect Prototype to create another multimedia locomotive exhibit, this time in the company’s traveling Exhibit Car. To keep crowds of visitors moving through the exhibits, Perfect Prototype compressed the script, re-fabricated another control stand, and reprogrammed the simulator software with a completely new 3D world.

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