Surfers can catch a magnetic wave

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The Independent Online
A DORSET company has lift-off - by selling the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) a simulator that will give an earth-bound astronaut the sensation of floating in space.

The motion base of the simulator is so sensitive that it can respond to the movement of people inside it without a joystick. This means that it is now possible to design simulators to train surfers, hang-gliders, motorcyclists, horse-riders and others who use body motion to guide their transport.

Until now, simulators have been moved around by noisy hydraulic systems, which need extensive maintenance to keep them watertight. Denne Developments, in Bournemouth, has invented a computer-controlled electromagnetic piston that is silent, has only one moving part, and responds instantly.

At present, the motion bases are made at Lotus, the car maker in Norwich. 'After all, it's a vehicle - it just doesn't go anywhere,' said the simulator's inventor, Phillip Denne.

The company is negotiating with two subcontractors about manufacturing in the US. The prototype system was first shown at the 'Technology in Leisure and Entertainment' exhibition in the Netherlands in June, and the first entertainment simulators will appear in arcades early next year.

Mr Denne said the pistons had applications in other areas, such as active vehicle suspension, passenger lifts and industrial automation. He said he had talked to the US Army about training simulators and to his local police force about using the system for training drivers in high-speed pursuit.

He has had the usual inventor's frustrations in trying to develop such applications - none of the venture capital companies is interested. Instead his company has relied on several private investors, and Mr Denne wants to attract more.

For surfers, the invention will remove the tedium of getting out to sea and then waiting for a 10-second ride on a wave. Now they will be able to hone their skills on one continuous wave - without getting wet.

(Photograph omitted)