I Just Solved the Ferris Wheel Problem

Ferris wheels, for all that they are a non-adrenaline amusement park ride, are pretty cool. They have two things going for them – the feeling you get as you move through the air, up and down, and the spectacular view you get from the top.

I remember as a kid riding the wheel at the state fair, rising up to see, well, Albuquerque. The ride went in three phases: getting everyone on, spinning around a couple of times, and getting everyone off. (Obviously this was also the getting-eveyone-on phase for the next riders.)

When you’re at the top and barely moving, that’s awesome. But most of that time you’re not at the top, and it kind of sucks as you wait just to be set free.

One of the most famous Ferris wheels is the London Eye. That thing has gondolas that hold 25 people each. But rather than stop the wheel to reload the gondolas, the wheel moves so dang slowly (roughly two revolutions per hour) that passengers can unload and reload without stopping the wheel (usually). But this terrible slowness means that riders are condemned to long periods crowded with strangers when there is nothing to see out the windows.

What we need is a way to keep the wheel turning, but at a rate where the rotation itself is fun. Especially on a huge wheel, the lift and fall would be (dare I say it?) mildly adrenaline-inducing.

Imagine if the London Eye went four times the speed it does now, and never stops, and every passenger got four revolutions. Easy Peasy! You just have to be able to swap out gondolas. One gondola filled with cheerful people is lifted off its harness, and immediately another gondola filled with eager patrons is whisked away. The off-wheel gondolas calmly move to a debarkation station, then to a loading station, and then queue up to join the wheel. Clockwork.

And people with special needs can get on and get comfortable with everyone else, and not worry about holding things up. Boarding the gondola or the chair or whatever it is can be relaxed.

I am quite confident that what I described here is technically in the realm of “not easy, but certainly doable”. Before long there will be a new super-giant Ferris wheel somewhere (probably an oil state) that boasts this feature. Remember: you heard it here first.

(filed under Get Poor Quick because that’s the place for innovation)


3 thoughts on “I Just Solved the Ferris Wheel Problem

  1. Did you see my bird cage lift video from Gubbio (day 4 Bike Across Italy)? This was my first experience with such a conveyance.

  2. There’s already gondola (and ski lift) technology where the loop keeps spinning, and the “arm” doesn’t grab the cable until the car is full. Poverty accomplished (if you’re looking to get poor quick).

    • Ah, the high speed poma lifts at Wolf Creek Ski Area, which I encountered 50 years ago (and they weren’t very new when I met them). I won’t bore you with (too many) personal recollections, but they had that constantly-running loop and grab-the-cable technology, but the loops were going really fast and once things grabbed the cable (at T.A. Dickey’s control) it was a launch zone if you weighed less than 100 pounds.

      Good times.

      If you could capture some of that spice in a Ferris wheel it would be cool.

      Going off on a tangent, how about articulating each arm that ends in a gondola, so that you can slow each arm down at the bottom allowing passenger exchange, accelerate invigoratingly on the ascent, slow down at the top (matching passenger exchange at the bottom), and then offer an excitingly fast descent? All the masses would be balanced, with the concentration over the centerline.

      Just don’t let T.A. Dickey run your articulated Ferris wheel, unless you want significant Gs on the upswing and near free-fall on the downward side.

      Though that would be cool.

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