Disney: following footsteps to enhance theme park magic

Disney Enterprises, part of the Walt Disney company, recently published an intriguing patent which enables owners of theme parks or entertainment venues to track the paths of individual visitors as they walk around a location (US9393697), based on their foot shape. Disney claims that the technology will be able to provide amusement park owners with more insightful data about their guests, such as their favourite rides or the paths they take from ride to ride.


Collecting behavioural data is an important trend in almost all industries, so this technology follows the ‘big data’ trend. It's an aspect that will be the lifeblood for any industry where success depends upon creating exceptional personal experiences. In return for sharing personal behavioural data, guests will receive more tailored experiences to enhance the enjoyment of their visit.

The process could work by collecting data from the guest, for example, at the entrance. The data is then stored and subsequently used to track the guest in a way that is far less invasive than using fingerprints or retina scans, which people may be reluctant to share. It is less Orwellian than using visible mounted cameras for technologies such as facial recognition and, Disney claims, provides more accuracy compared to using other visual clues.


While this patent in isolation is interesting, it becomes all the more exciting when considered in conjunction with a recently granted (albeit a long time pending) patent  from Disney Enterprises, which is a method and system for converting a computer virtual environment into a real-life simulation environment (US9387402). As this patent describes, it is possible for gamers to modify or customise the environment of a computer game based on their personal preferences, which wasn't always the case in the real world: “While a conventional real-life simulation ride, such as Disneyland's Space Mountain or Indiana Jones Adventure, is substantially the same experience for all riders, a computer game environment might be customizable by its user.” According to the principles of the example in this patent, a roller coaster rider changes the setting of the ride, choosing themselves between, for example, a space setting or a jungle setting – a feature that’s already been rolled out in some parks. Taking this one step further, there is the possibility of theme park guests being provided with a joystick that they could use to destroy asteroids, for example, as the roller coaster carriage becomes their space vehicle.

Here's where the two technologies combined become interesting. If individual guests could be set objectives, it introduces a competitive element to the roller coaster ride in a ‘theme park meets gaming’ scenario. Then, with the added feature of tracking and identifying guests by their shoes, a theme park visitor would be able to enjoy tackling their own objectives as they move from ride to ride – and there would be no need to ‘scan in’ or enter details, as the system would recognise the player all around the park. In this way, it keeps the ‘magic’ alive as there is no interference from technology. The experience is seamless and virtual and real worlds can be skilfully blended together.

While it’s yet to be seen whether these technologies will be combined to unleash a new theme park experience, it is noteworthy that the latest Disney patent granted in the roller coaster space relates to virtual reality – as Disney is one of foremost innovators in the area and so will significantly influence the trends.  Out of more than 1,000 patents that use the term ‘roller coaster,’ Disney is responsible for over 4% of them, compared to nearest rivals Universal City Studios at under 2%.


Virtual reality in combination with roller coasters is, of course, all the rage at the moment. Just this week, NJ.com reported on the Skull Mountain roller coaster at the Six Flags Great Adventure park. This will incorporate a gargoyle virtual reality game on its Rage of the Gargoyles ride and is set to open in autumn. Players can fire at gargoyles using head movements picked up by Samsung virtual reality headsets.

Use of virtual reality in theme parks is just one example that we’ve been seeing of the increasing trend of innovation in the VR space. For a complete overview of the trends within virtual reality across all sectors, please see our Virtual Reality white paper for lots more information and innovation statistics.