World’s tallest observation wheel: industrial communications

Case study: The world’s tallest observation wheel, the 55-story High Roller in Las Vegas, leverages industrial wireless and self-healing fiber-optic networking equipment for position tracking and control. No ordinary Ferris wheel, High Roller is part of a $550 million complex and can carry 40 people per cabin in the 30 minute ride, more than 2200 passengers per hour. Engineering design experts involved included leaders from theme park, bridge-building, gondola, and civil engineering industries. See related technology and services update article with diagrams.

By Oliver Wang August 19, 2014

The newly opened High Roller in Las Vegas is the world’s tallest observation wheel at 550 ft, and it holds 28 spherical cabins that ride outside the rim to ensure an unobstructed 360-degree view for the duration of the ride. Both industrial networking equipment and expertise proved essential in establishing the mission-critical networking infrastructure connecting the cabin safety and control systems to the main control room. 

High profile

First announced in August 2011, the Las Vegas High Roller has been high profile from the beginning. With 28 enclosed, high-tech passenger cabins, each capable of carrying 40 passengers (more than 2200 passengers per hour), the High Roller provides the focal point of Caesars Entertainment’s $550 million investment in The Linq, an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. At 550 ft, the multi-colored LED lighted High Roller observation wheel is the world’s tallest and most advanced observation wheel, an immediate landmark Las Vegas attraction.

The size and complexity of this project required the involvement of various industry leaders. The project manager, Randy Printz of Themed Development Management, has more than 30 years of experience in major development projects for theme parks, such as Disneyland, Epcot Center, and Universal Studios. American Bridge Co., the manufacturer selected for construction of the wheel, has been building complex trusses and bridges for over 100 years, including the self-anchored suspension superstructure of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Schwager Davis, the specialty contractor selected to design, supply, install, and commission all mechanization equipment, has more than 30 years’ experience with large civil engineering projects. Leitner Poma, the contractor for the 28 cabins, is a global provider of cable transportation and gondola construction. 

Guinness World record

Setting a new Guinness World Record for observation wheel height, the High Roller provides passengers with a smooth 30-minute ride with unimpeded 360-degree views of the Las Vegas skyline. Video screens show passengers their cabin’s position as it travels around the wheel and are also used for in-cabin entertainment programs.

The IP-based communications infrastructure makes every aspect of the control and emergency systems accessible to operators at the central control room, enabling the High Roller to meet the highest standards for operational reliability and passenger safety, according to those involved. 

Engineering requirements

Within each cabin were a number of control and safety systems that communicated with the central control room on the ground. There also were emergency communication systems with video capability in each cabin that needed to be available at a moment’s notice at all times. Finally, in-cabin entertainment, position tracking, and wireless networking were essential for delivering a quality passenger experience over the 30-minute duration of the ride. Due to the critical nature of these systems, wireless communications from each cabin to the main wheel and from the wheel to the ground needed to perform with the utmost reliability.

Establishing reliable communications was exceptionally challenging because the:

  • New state-of-the-art control and emergency systems required a high level of communications redundancy and reliability to ensure passenger safety.
  • Network topology was highly complex and relied heavily on wireless communication, due to the rotational movement of the individual cabins and the main wheel.
  • Sheer size and physical layout of the wheel made installation and troubleshooting extremely difficult, especially after cabins were installed.
  • Unique and record-breaking features of the project introduced communication issues that had never been encountered before and were not revealed during initial testing. 

Critical communications reliability

A high level of technical expertise in IP-based communications and industrial systems would be critical to ensure the success of the project. The communications network needed to include:

  • Extremely reliable hardware designed for very low maintenance and maximum uptime under harsh operating conditions
  • Rock-solid wireless communications from cabin to rim and from hub to spindle
  • Live, on-demand management of cabin control and communication elements from a central control room
  • Highly responsive support team with technical expertise in automation and networking technology from multiple vendors.

Printz, High Roller project manager, said, "We had a number of unusual and unique situations. We were dealing with two prime contractors. Schwager Davis handled the integrated ride control system, and Leitner Poma handled the passenger cabins, and both needed wireless communications systems. With a project like this, you have fixed pieces and you have moving pieces, and they need to communicate wirelessly to each other." 

Gigabit switches

Industrial-grade wireless and wired networking hardware were used for the communications infrastructure connecting each cabin on the High Roller to the central control room. To ensure the greatest degree of reliability, two separate, fully redundant networks were established for all wheel and cabin communications.

  • Compact DIN-rail mounted Gigabit managed switches were used for the dual redundant network within each cabin that connected to that cabin’s fire and life safety systems, intercom systems, and drive control systems.
  • Specialized Wi-Fi access points were used to bridge communications between the rim and each cabin. Instead of using traditional wireless antennas, leaky coax cable was used to ensure the most stable and reliable connection as the wheel and cabins went through their respective rotations. Each cabin used two wireless hops ("jumps"), one for each redundant network.
  • A redundant, self-healing fiber Ethernet network around the rim connected to each of the Wi-Fi access points on the wheel. Switches designed for high shock and vibration resistance were used for this network and for communication and control of the wheel’s outdoor LED lighting system. In addition, a high-performance ring fiber-optic network topology provided additional network resiliency with a 20 ms recovery time.
  • At opposite ends of the wheel, rackmount switches with hardened Gigabit SFP modules were used to send network communications over fiber cables to the spindle at the center of the wheel. Wireless access points were once again used to bridge communications between the spindle and the axle of the wheel.
  • The backbone network to the central control center used high-performance Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches with industrial-grade redundancy and security features. Easy-to-use network management software enables operators to identify any network communication issues at a glance.

– Oliver Wang is marketing communications manager, Moxa. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


This article online (also included in the September issue) links to a technology article with diagrams, more application and project details, and a list of Moxa communication equipment used, from the engineering experts involved.

See below for the article: "Technology and services inside High Roller Observation Wheel communications."

Like things that are super tall? See a related article covering engineering challenges in supertall buildings below.

Key concepts

  • Industrial networking, fiber optics, and wireless provide critical links in the control, entertainment, and safety systems of the record-setting 55-story High Roller observation wheel.
  • High Roller is part of a $550 million complex and can carry 40 people per cabin in the 30-minute ride, more than 2200 passengers per hour.
  • Engineering design experts involved included leaders from the theme park, bridge-building, gondola, and civil engineering industries.

Consider this

If wireless communication is used for critical safety critical applications on the high-profile High Roller record-setting observation wheel, can it be integrated into your control applications?

Author Bio: Oliver Wang is the product marketing manager for edge connectivity at Moxa.