Euthanasia Coaster (2010) is a hypothetic death machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely – with elegance and euphoria – take the life of a human being.
Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death. Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in aeronautics/space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant and meaningful. Celebrating the limits of the human body, this ‘kinetic sculpture’ is in fact the ultimate roller coaster: John Allen, former president of the famed Philadelphia Toboggan Company, once said that “the ultimate roller coaster is built when you send out twenty-four people and they all come back dead. This could be done, you know.”
“Euthanasia Coaster” is nothing but a falling trajectory, curved and tangled in such a way that would leave nobody apathetic, neither the passenger,nor the spectator. Where it lands to it is up to the public to decide. It is a prop for non-existent horror movie, a real fiction, a black humour scenography, social sci-fi design, the world's most extreme ride, a mourning sculpture, a monument for the end of the carousel evolution, a gravitational weapon, the very last trip...
Since its presentation to the public, the project has become a unique media phenomenon. It has drawn enormous attention from the public and received extremely extensive coverage from international media. The content and form of the feedback ranged from special TV shows, dedicated songs, a film script, a series of virtual replications, a project for school science fair, and a tattoo to knee-jerk online comments and thorough expert discussions. The project was awarded the Public Prize of New Technological Art of Update 2013, Ghent, Belgium.
"This brings a whole new meaning to the term 'killer coaster'."
— Chris Talbot, Boingboing.com, 2011.
"I would love it if the seats were empty when the train returns. You know, it catapults you to another dimension."
— Vincent Wikström, 2011.
“Dying like a screaming clown...”
— Ross Noble, QI, BB Two, 2012.
“Oh no, I think it sounds like a horrible way to go, and after reading this I may never really enjoy riding roller coasters."
— Deborah Anne Hart , Discovery.com, 2014.
"If I were terminally ill, I'd definetly want to this way...and make sure they have a picture station along the tracks so the family has something to remember you by."
— Doledart, Io9.com, 2011.
“I can hack it with g-trouses that prevent the pilots from such centrifugal forces, and make it the world’s most extreme ride!”
— A pilot, Science Gallery, Dublin, 2011.
“Curiously, it does work as provocation, regardless of intent. So be it. ”
— Antonio Damasio, “Design and Violence,” MoMA, 2014.
Euthanasia, execution, gravitational weapon, black humour prop, etc.
Height: 510 m
Drop length: 500 m
Track length: 7544 m
Lift: 120 s
Drop: 10 s
Exposure to 10 g: 60 s
Max speed: 100m/s
Max g-force: 10 g
Cause of death:
Cerebral hypoxia, lack of oxygen supply to the brain.
Seated, harnessed with a health monitoring system, and strapped to the seat of a single-seat coaster vehicle, you are slowly towed to the top of the drop-tower. It takes a while, as the ride is about half a kilometre long! Hence, you have a few minutes to contemplate your decision and your life in retrospect. You even find enough time to adapt to the height and get through a series of imaginary fatal falls, while realising that the objects on the ground are getting smaller. Slow lift is an important illusion that intensifies the perception of height. The slightest movement of the car triggers drumming heartbeats and tests your decision… The top! If this test has not changed your mind yet, then at this point you have no choice but to submit yourself to the very last fall. Yet you still have a few minutes for the last words and goodbyes, or just enjoying the exhilarating bird’s-eye view of the surroundings. You relax and press the FALL button. Whirrr… swish – the ultimate surrender to gravity! No, you realize, in fact it is even greater than just giving up, as in the blink of an eye you enter the heart-line, the whirling element of the coaster track, where your heart stays roughly in line with the centre of the fall trajectory. In other words, your body spins around the heart while you fall. Gravitational choreography! The scooting gust of wind, goose bumps, suspension of breath, and vertigo — a set of experiences comprising a sort of fairground anaesthesia — prepare you for the fatal part of the ride.
Now you are already falling at a speed close to the terminal velocity, when the force of air drag becomes equal to the force of gravity, thus cancelling the acceleration. You feel your body as if supported by an air pillow. Just after this point, the track smoothly straightens forward, entering the first loop of the coaster, a continuously upward-sloping section of the track that eventually results in a complete 360-degree circle, completely inverting the riders at the topmost part. The centrifugal force drives the car upward, and you are literally pinned to the seat, your buttocks’ flesh is pressed against the ergonomic planes of the seat so hard that your whole body is almost immobilised. The tissues of your face start drooping down — it looks like ageing remarkably. Breathing requires more effort, as the ribs and the rest of the internal organs are pulled down, which empties air from the lungs. But most probably you are already unconscious, as this force rushes the blood to the lower extremities of the body, thereby causing oxygen deficiency in the brain. It is exactly this cerebral suffocation, also known as cerebral hypoxia, that is going to kill you. If you are still conscious, you are more resistant to the high g-forces than the majority of people, but don’t worry: the loop is engineered in such a way that the force will remain constant despite the changes in speed, thus ensuring that the painful level of acceleration is not reached. And be assured, the second loop will definitely do its job. In the meantime, if you are lucky, or, rather, g-force-resistant enough to be awake, your vision may blur, lose colour (greyout) and peripheral sight (tunnel vision), or even disappear completely (blackout), together with hearing. Eventually, this experience — accompanied with disorientation, anxiety, confusion, and, most importantly, euphoria — is crowned with G-LOC (g-force induced loss of consciousness), during which the body is completely limp, and vivid bizarre dreams occur, such as being in a maze and unable to get out, or floating in a white space, not knowing who you are, why you are here, etc. Of course, you can tell the story only if you survive, which is virtually impossible. But you might ignore this and suppose you have survived. You would soon recover from G-LOC, remaining unconscious, and your body would flail around in a chaotic fit that is called ‘funky chicken’ in aeromedical slang, as the neurons in the brain – replenished with extra oxygenated blood pumped harder from the heart – begin firing once again. This causes arms and legs to twitch uncontrollably. Finally, coming around, although still confused and disoriented, unable to remember anything, you would regain your memories in a few hours, and they would be one of the most memorable, with a peculiar souvenir on your legs: little red pinpoints all over the skin as a result of blood leaks through the blood vessels, a sort of gravitational measles.
The rest of the ride, six or five loops, proceeds with your body being numb, ensuring that the trip ends your life. You die, or, more accurately put, your brain dies of complete oxygen deprivation, a legal indicator of death in many jurisdictions. The biomonitoring suit double-checks if there is a need for the second round, which is extremely unlikely, as the result is guaranteed by seven-fold repetition.
Design, engineering: Julijonas Urbonas
Medical advisor: Dr. Michael Gresty, Spatial Disorientation Lab, Imperial College
Model making: Paulius Vitkauskas
Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius
Video: Science Gallery
Video footage (human centrifuge training): William Ellis