Sum of all Thrills
presented by Raytheon

October 15, 2009

Usually, the Yesterland website is about Disney park elements that are gone. Not this time. Today, read about a brand new exhibit at INNOVENTIONS East at Epcot. Its grand opening was Wednesday, October 14, 2009, after a one-day soft opening.

Actually, it’s more than just an exhibit. It’s a ride. And it’s a very good ride, for that matter.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Sum of all Thrills is presented by Raytheon, a major defense contractor.

On February 9, 2009, Raytheon Company announced plans to open “an interactive, math-based experience” at Epcot in fall 2009. The exhibit, to be called The Sum of all Thrills, would “engage children through a fun and educational experience that helps instill a lifelong passion for math, science and technology.”

The location would be across from Waste Management’s “Don’t Waste It“ interactive exhibit, where guests learn about “green” methods of handling garbage.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
A wall hid most of Sum of all Thrills prior to opening.

In spring 2009, word got out that Sum of all Thrills would use KUKA robotic arms, created by KUKA Roboter GmbH of Germany. Epcot already had some KUKA robotic arms, providing the motion of the angler fish in The Seas with Nemo and Friends and serving as a robotic band at Rockin’ Robots in INNOVENTIONS West.

But this time, the KUKA arms would carry riders. Suddenly, Sum of all Thrills became the most eagerly awaited addition to INNOVENTIONS ever.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Cast members entered through a door in the wall to serve as willing guinea pigs.

For the week leading up to the October 14 grand opening of Sum of all Thrills, there was plenty of activity behind the construction wall. The wildly swaying and twisting robotic arms were clearly visible above the wall. Over the weekend of October 10 and 11, Cast Members eagerly participated in tests—and gladly discussed their experiences with guests (who would have to wait a few more days).

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Before the opening, signs suggested that guest previews might be possible.

On Tuesday morning, October 13, the construction wall was gone. Now guests could watch the robotic arms through clear glass walls. Better yet, Sum of all Thrills was available to the public. The next day, October 14, a grand opening ceremony made it official.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
When the construction wall came down, a glass wall remained.

The glass wall makes a lot of sense. It’s vitally important to prevent people away from being in the same space as the robotic arms. Also, it’s great to see how the mechanisms function. Unlike Star Tours, where guest don’t see the exterior of the simulators, there’s no pretense here that the robotic arms are anything other than mechanical simulators.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
An unusual feature of Sum of all Thrills is that it has two different height limits.

The minimum height to ride is 48" but a guest must be at least 54" to design a ride that goes upside-down.

The warning sign has the usual thrill ride cautions: “For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure,” along with the warning that expectant mothers should not ride.

In addition, there’s this warning: “The seating and restraints on this attraction may prohibit guests of certain body shapes or sizes from riding.”

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
The seats do not accommodate some body shapes.

Before getting in line, guests can check if they fit into a seat and if the hood can be lowered properly.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Guests wait in an open queue with views of the robotic arms.

Are you ready to ride? Then let’s get in line.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
The first stop is the Briefing Room.

The line moves slowly because this is not a high-capacity attraction. Once you make it into the Briefing Room, your attraction experience begins.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot

A video in the Briefing Room provides a preview of what’s next, including how to design your own ride.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Inside the Briefing Room, guests hear a pitch about engineering.

The video also attempts to help “instill a lifelong passion for math, science and technology,” which is Raytheon’s stated purpose for sponsoring the attraction.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
The second stop is the Design Lab.

The Design Lab provides a well-designed interface to design your ride. You have the choice of a bobsled, a roller coaster, or a jet. The bobsled is considered to be the mildest; it can’t go upside-down. So maybe that will be your choice for your first experience at Sum of all Thrills.

There are mathematic formulas all over the place. They’re probably legitimate, but you don’t have to be concerned with the underlying mathematics of your ride.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Easy-to-use interactive controls allow guests to design their own rides.

You put together several ride elements, offering various curves and loops. For each one, you can control speed and various angles. A test button allows you to see if your ride will work—or if, for example, you can’t make it up a hill or remain on the track. It’s all fun and rather ingenious.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
After the Design Lab, it’s up a set of stairs to the loading level.

Now it’s up to the loading level. There are four robotic arms. You need to wait for one of them to become available, and there may be other people waiting ahead of you.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
There’s another video before getting boarding a robot arm.

A video on the loading level provides practical information and keeps you entertained while you wait.

There are lockers up here. You need to store your camera, purse, and anything that has any possibility of getting away from you. If something drops from your pocket onto the floor below the robotic arms, you won’t get it back until the next day.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Each guest’s ride data is stored on plastic card.

When you designed your ride, you received a plastic card with the data stored on it. You’re encouraged to keep the card which has the URL for Raytheon’s MathMovesU website, promoting middle school math and science.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
The time to ride has arrived!

Climb into a seat. You’ll get a short explanation from a Cast Member. You’ll learn how to stop the ride if you need to do so for any reason (such as if you think you might lose the lunch that you just ate). You’ll also learn that, if there are two of you riding, you won’t be able to look directly at each other. But you will see the other person in a “picture in a picture” on the video screen in front of you once the hood is lowered.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
A Cast Member lowers the hoods over the riders.

There’s now a video screen in front of your face. The ride begins. The moving image on the video screen perfectly matches the motion. The video is as smooth as the motion of the robotic arm. There are inventive little touches, such as going under an aerial ski tram if you chose the bobsled.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
The robotic arm provides smooth motion.

The ride is over in around a minute and a half. Then, retrieve your things from your locker head down the stairs... and get back in line to try the roller coaster or the jet.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Rides vary from mild to wild, based on choices by the guest.

Sum of all Thrills will almost certainly become the most popular attraction at Epcot’s INNOVENTIONS. It’s genuinely a thrill ride, but each rider can decide what threshold of thrill to go after. There are so many permutations that the ride can be quite different each time. That means that unlike other INNOVENTIONS exhibits, this one can be enjoyed over and over.

Sum of all Thrills at Epcot
Passers-by at INNOVENTIONS East can view the robotic arms in action.

Some Disney fans might object that there’s a lack of immersion here. In other words, if you chose the bobsled, there’s no attempt to make you feel as if you’re at an Alpine mountain resort until the hood comes down in front of you. However, the theme here is engineering and simulation, not the activities that are being simulated. And this is, after all, an INNOVENTIONS exhibit, not a free-standing “E” ticket attraction.

If there’s anything to criticize here, it’s the lack of capacity. With just four robotic arms each seating only two guests, and with a fairly lengthy cycle time between guests, Sum of all Thrills has an anemic rider throughput. One Cast Member estimated a capacity of 190 guests per hour, but even this low number seems a bit optimistic. Also, INNOVENTIONS is normally only open from 9:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

The attraction itself is brilliant. Too bad the budget didn’t allow for more capacity.

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© 2009-2016 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated March 4, 2016.

Photographs of Sum of all Thrills: 2009 by Werner Weiss.