LOOK OUT. THE DRONES ARE COMING!
The Walt Disney Company is known for its entertainment across its parks, streaming, film, and more. Part of the way Disney stays so dominant in these industries is through constant innovation, keeping itself on the cutting edge of technologies. We see all kinds of technologies utilized in the theme parks regularly (Shaman animatronic, we’re looking at you!), but we’re set to see WAY more mind-blowing innovations in the years to come.
From artificial intelligence and augmented reality to transforming ride vehicles, we’re taking a look at some of the BIGGEST technological advancements coming from Disney’s engineers. This is why you’ll start seeing drones in the Disney Parks.
Drones are used around the world and in a variety of industries – from the military to film. But how can these versatile tools be used to create entertaining experiences in the Disney parks? There are a LOT of possibilities there.
We’ve already seen drones in use in Disneyland Paris as part of their night show called Disney D-Light. The show features 200 (yes, 200!!!) drones that are choreographed to bring a special new look to the night sky. You can get a look at some of those drones in action in the video below.
But that isn’t the only time Disney has delved into the world of small flying machines. In 2021, Disney put on a show featuring drones in honor of National Streaming Day. The show was done in Los Angeles (not in any Disney park), but it still showed off Disney’s experience and mastery of the technology.
Yeah, we’ll take a little Baby Yoda flying over Cinderella Castle please and thank you.
But wait, there’s MORE. In 2020, we took a look at a special Disney patent that showed how Disney has come up with a way to use drones and rushes of air produced by drones to animate certain elements of a live show.
And in 2021, we discussed how Disney had filed a patent for a “themed aerial vehicle entertainment platform for providing dynamically coordinated show.” Translation: Disney was working on a themed drone that could fly in sync with other elements during a nighttime spectacular.
Drones seem like the logical next step for entertainment in the Disney Parks, considering the way we’ve already seen them used by others and by Disney. And we’re not alone in thinking that.
In early 2022, we got the chance to speak with Professor Carissa Baker from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management on a few topics, including technology in Disney’s parks.
When we asked what the future could hold in terms of theme park technology. Baker shared that she thinks more entertainment technology is on the way, especially with drones and immersive screens. She also noted how she had gone to a showcase for future technology in Dubai and there were “tons of drones.”
All signs point to future drone usage for entertainment, but (just as they have done in Disneyland Paris) Disney will need to figure out all the fine details about where to place the drones, whether they can be flown safely over the spaces/people they need to cross, and where is best to utilize them.
Safety concerns (and lawyers ready to warn Disney of potential lawsuits) likely complicate the process, giving Disney a number of tough hurdles to jump through. But if they can figure out a way to safely get it done, drones could be an exciting part of Disney’s future experiences.
You didn’t think we could stop this post at just drones, did you?! There are so many other things that could be on the way when it comes to Disney technology, and one of those is robots!
Disney has long had a hand in robotic development with the invention and advancement of audio-animatronics. So, let’s take a look at how they are still innovating.
We start with…robot handshakes?! It’s true! In one research publication, we saw some discussion about technology Disney has been working on that would enable robots to shake hands in a more human-like way.
No, this isn’t a joke! Disney has actually worked on tech that would allow robots to understand the grip force applied by a human and return that handshake with a similar level of force.
Maybe we’ll shake hands with a robotic figure in Tomorrowland one day? Or shake hands with a robot-version of our favorite characters in EPCOT’s Play! Pavilion. The possibilities are endless!
But wait, there’s more. Back in 2020, we shared details about a patent Disney filed that depicted a robot moving a handle into your hand as if flying through the air. Essentially, the patent explained that a guest could put on a head-mounted display (disguised as a helmet from a movie) and then be asked to use their superpower of telekinesis to draw a tool or weapon (such as an energy sword…helllloooooo lightsaber) to themselves.
There could then be a handover robot that could be controlled to provide that object to the user. But the robot could also be controlled for much more, like for providing physical interactions with the guest. This could be more along the lines of what you would experience in a sword fight, where another object strikes something you’re already holding.
But sometimes the robots aren’t just behind the scenes. Some robots might end up being the main attraction. Take, for example, the remarkable WALKING Baby Groot Robot! When we first saw the video of this beauty, we thought it may have just been some kind of fever dream. Did we actually watch a video of a Baby Groot Robot just walking around and being adorable (basically) all on its own?! But this is no dream folks, it is REAL.
Project Kiwi is what this beauty is called. We had previously seen tech for something similar in a patent for a “Legged High-dexterity Self-balancing Capable Robot Actor.” But the images shared in that patent (at the time) looked to be for a more Judy Hopps-type character, though there was one with a Groot-like look.
Long story short, this thing is INCREDIBLE. He walks around, he isn’t “stuck” in one spot, he’s only attached to a thin cable but can otherwise walk around freely, oh, and he’s ridiculously adorable. The whole idea behind Project Kiwi is that Imagineering can bring characters to life in a way that is a more proper scale true to their design.
While this version of Project Kiwi is “Groot-flavored,” it could take different forms in the parks. Back in 2021, TechCrunch said that guests shouldn’t expect to “see this in the wild soon” and that Walt Disney Imagineering “does not have immediate plans to put it in the parks.” But you never know what the future might hold!
Plus, TechCrunch did indicate that Project Kiwi was “already well on the road to being viable for things like stage performances, photo ops and eventually free roaming deployment in the parks.”
Yeah, we need this guy in our lives ASAP.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Perhaps the BIGGEST area of technological growth for Disney is augmented and virtual reality. Yep, Disney is working on transporting you to a VIRTUAL WORLD.
We’ve actually seen quite a bit of work from Disney in this space. Disney worked with VR through a 3rd-party experience when it came to The VOID in Disney Springs and Tales from Galaxy’s Edge in Disney Springs (with Meta Quest 2).
But it goes beyond third-party applications.
We’ve seen Disney file a number of patent applications surrounding virtual reality. What’s especially interesting about some of these patents is that they imply a situation where the VR works together with tech in an external environment — the type of tech that probably wouldn’t be functional in our living rooms but could be functional in a theme park.
One of these patents was for VR/AR and the External Space. This essentially was for an AR experience that was linked with external stereo screens. For those wondering about the difference between AR and VR — AR augments certain parts of the user’s view, whereas VR controls all of it.
Disney has even filed patents that would actually work to create flooring that would be used in conjunction with VR or AR. Some of Disney’s inventions would allow for dynamic VR ground effects, or actually help stabilize those walking in VR.
Things get REALLY interesting when we get to Disney’s invention that involves a robot syncing with the VR or AR system to provide the user with a more tactile experience. What you see in the AR world could translate to physical interactions in the real world, making the two worlds truly blend together!
Disney has also filed several VR-related patents focused on optimizing a system, and, in some cases, working to make VR even more realistic. In one invention, they outlined a system that could track objects in a VR gaming experience.
Another invention would focus on gaze-based audio that would make sure sound comes from the right place and is adapted to each user’s height. They’ve even worked on a way to share VR and AR experiences between different users.
But wait, there’s MORE. Disney has also worked on methods to put users within a virtual reality setting without wearing a super bulky headset or needing to be tied to a computer. With this technology (which utilizes infrared illumination built into the room), users could actually wear something that would be a lot more lightweight and the system could even be used with multiple users. That could make VR more accessible on a larger scale!
We’ve also seen Disney file a patent for a “Virtual World Simulator.” Basically, it sounds like a VR-type situation where virtual effects are actually overlayed on top of real-world objects (potentially with some kind of projection mapping or VR system). The system even describes a situation where the user holds a device that would actually work as a projection device. Basic things in the physical world could be made to look like much more elaborate or themed things thanks to this tech, and it would work even from different vantage points.
A big thing with this filing was that it presented a system where (in theory) multiple guests could actually participate at the same time, and the projection device may be a 3D map that follows your movement.
And there’s so much more Disney is working on in this space. From a patent for a device that could create a customized photo experience using AR, where AR would be used to apply a costume to an individual in whatever pose they’ve chosen…
…to a patent for a haptic floor system with a quake plate, which would essentially create a floor surface that can be programmed to quake as if it was under stress, there are a LOT of possibilities here.
Maybe one day you’ll get to virtually “suit up” in the parks with some of your favorite heroes, or maybe even stand on a floor that quakes when the Hulk “punches” it as part of an attraction experience.
Mix these patents with Disney’s existing use of AR with photo filters, use of AR with experience-based offerings tied to recent movie releases, and the upcoming Play! Pavilion (which is set to put guests in the center of an interactive and immersive world) and you can see the seeds being planted for a VERY interesting future.
And, Imagineers don’t plan to stick to the same ol’, same ol’ when it comes to rides either. Let’s look at what the rides of the future might be like for us.
One patent we shared details about back in 2020 could change rides in a big way. The patent was essentially for a portable version of Pepper’s Ghost. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Pepper’s Ghost is an effect that uses mirrors and lights to make it appear like there’s a ghostly figure in the room. Think about the Haunted Mansion ballroom scene! There are actual animatronic figures in a room hidden from guests. Through the use of light and mirrors, Disney can make it appear like these figures are actually ghosts dancing in the room guests can see.
Now imagine that the Pepper’s Ghost effect could move along with your ride vehicle! This invention could potentially make all kinds of things appear in front of the real scene your vehicle is passing through, and it could even let guests use gestures to scroll through certain aspects of the Pepper’s Ghost effect.
Disney has even worked on technology that could TRANSFORM ride vehicles. Imagine you’re in a ride vehicle and you go through a “crash” scene. Your vehicle might change in its appearance once hit — with various things now popped out of place. But once you get off, the vehicle could move to a hidden area and be reset to how it looked before the “crash.” It could add some serious layers of storytelling to see your actual vehicle change in front of your eyes, but then have it reset for those who haven’t experienced that story yet.
The future could be full of ride vehicles that do things in more unique ways than what we may be used to. From spinning roller coaster vehicles to transforming cars, there’s some fun stuff we’ve already seen and likely much more on the horizon.
Gamification and Personalization
It might not sound as flashy as some of the things we’ve talked about so far, but Disney is also making MAJOR advancements in gamifying the theme parks! This is actually one of the areas that Baker discussed with us as a trend of technology use in theme parks.
Baker said one trend she’s noticing is that theme parks are making more explicit use of technology, rather than just leaving technology to do fancy things in the background. Part of that has to do with gamification. Rides like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Mania are good examples of this, where guests are interacting with things around them in a game-like setting and competing against one another.
She also shared that utilizing technology for storytelling has been a big trend — where technology can be used to add a narrative overlay. This has become a BIG deal in places like the Star Wars Hotel or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where the “Datapad” is used.
In Galaxy’s Edge, the datapad is more of a “bonus.” While you can enjoy Galaxy’s Edge without it, using the Datapad there gives you a more full and complete experience, and gives you the chance to interact with the world around you.
At the Star Wars Hotel, you could opt to not use the Datapad, but your experience would be significantly more limited than in Galaxy’s Edge. That’s because the Datapad is HEAVILY used in the Star Wars Hotel to get you to interact with characters, unlock experiences, and move your story along.
Can you choose NOT to participate in any of the activities and NOT use the Datapad? Sure. But your experience at the Star Wars Hotel will be completely different when compared to those who fully immerse themselves in the use of the technology to really get the most out of the story.
Disney may be headed in a direction more like this in the future where technology is not just a “bonus” to your experience, it is crucial to you really getting the full story.
Gamification and technology may also become a special “perk,” exclusive to certain groups, in an effort to encourage guests to buy a certain piece of technology to unlock the full experience. We’ve seen this come into play with things like MagicBand+. If you use a regular MagicBand, you can still do the same things you always could — scan your park ticket, charge things to your hotel, etc.
But if you want to interact with the parks in special ways, it’s a MagicBand+ you’ll now need. MagicBand+ can do the same things as a regular MagicBand, but it can also interact with fireworks and certain rides, AND unlock exclusive games/experiences to those with the new tech.
Specifically, MagicBand+ can be used to interact with the 50th Anniversary statues and unlock a scavenger hunt activity to “collect” all of the interactions. Perhaps most importantly, and most tied to the “gamification” idea, MagicBand+ can also unlock an exclusive scavenger hunt in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge where guests are able to go around, search for bounties using a sort of hot and cold light-based system, collect bounties, and get credits for their work.
It’s not “necessary” to your Galaxy’s Edge experience, by any means, but it adds to the story and gives you a more complete experience in the land.
But gamification could be SO much more. Disney has also mentioned its idea of creating a “metaverse” recently. Disney defines their Theme Park Metaverse as a “shared magical world, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space.” Essentially, there would be experiences that cause the convergence of technology and physical things.
We see some of this in the parks already with things like the Play Disney Parks app, where you can explore the parks and also enhance your experience waiting in lines, etc. by using technology. But Disney’s full Metaverse would be much more. As the Metaverse grows, Metaverse experiences could become attractions in their own right.
What could the future hold with the Metaverse? Well, we could see artificially intelligent virtual characters interact with guests through personalized interactions. We could also see guests enabled to experience some animal interactions through augmented reality or other ways where the physical and the digital combine to create something unique and new.
Disney has even asked guests about their interest in virtual experiences like Pokemon Go, digital art museums, immersive art exhibits, and in-person quest experiences (similar to an Escape Room). This could reveal Disney’s interest in adding more gamification experiences to the parks that have a heavier reliance on technology and AR when compared to more physical games we’ve seen in the past like Sorcerors of the Magic Kingdom.
We’ve seen some AR implemented in the MagicBand+ Galaxy’s Edge game, but its possible Disney could take things to another level in the future.
Basically, the future could be made of many more interactions between the physical and digital worlds, plus unique experiences and storytelling opportunities that have the ability to be personalized to YOU.
One innovation that doesn’t quite fit into these categories is Project EXO. And this one could mean some seriously amazing character meet-and-greet opportunities.
Back in 2021, we got a look at Project EXO in person. The version of this technology that we saw was for a potential character that would have big, furry feet and lots of moving parts. With this new tech, there are pneumatic assists at key joint areas. Plus, the weight of the exoskeleton all goes to the legs, so the performer isn’t stuck carrying all of that weight on their shoulders or backs.
Disney is even working on 3D printing muscles that could create incredibly realistic character designs!
Disney has already shared that Project EXO could really change the game in terms of bringing characters to life in the parks. Think about what HUGE characters could make an easier (and more realistic) appearance in the parks thanks to this tech. A hulk perhaps? A yeti? Some kind of other BIG creature?
There are a LOT of possibilities here that could change that ordinary meet-and-greet you’re used to into something that feels like it’s straight out of a movie.
We’re also seeing Disney expand their use of technology through things like Disney Genie, which can give customized park plans and act as a guest’s personal assistant, or things like “Hey Disney!,” which will bring technology into Disney hotel rooms in a big way through a device powered by Amazon’s Alexa.
So, as you can see, there are a LOT of amazing technologies in the works for the Disney parks and beyond. But there are lots of concerns Disney will have to overcome too, especially when it comes to things like safety for drones. Disney will also have to figure out how to roll out these technologies in a way that is user-friendly.
We previously spoke to Keith Dunphy (Chief Revenue Officer) and Norman Miglietta (Head of Global Marketing) at the Omnico Group (a company that focuses on technology and uniting the customer journey to improve guest engagement) about technology in theme parks. They noted, “Depending on the guest being technically savvy is a mistake…One of the main benefits of the most successful technology that is being used at parks currently is that they utilize much of the same intuitive user interfaces that customers use at home such as touchpad screens. Any future designs must follow this same approach.” So that may be something Disney will also need to consider.
We can’t wait to see what Disney comes up with next. As always, keep an eye on DFB to make sure you don’t miss any of the new and amazing park changes!
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What technology do you most want to see in the parks? Tell us in the comments!
The post Disney’s Biggest Changes and Announcements Could Be HIDING in Patents and Permits first appeared on the disney food blog.