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Disneyland Article
4 Ways Technology Powers The Disneyland Metaverse

Mad Tea Party
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
November 18, 2020
January 6, 2021
A day at Disneyland in the very near future will be filled with a slew of behind-the-scenes technology that will help place your lunch order, arrange a meeting with your favorite character and change your ride itinerary as part of the Disney theme park “metaverse.”

What is the Disney theme park metaverse?

“It all starts with having a connected park,” Disney chief technology officer Tilak Mandadi said. “A park where guests can truly interact with their physical surroundings using connected devices, wearables, phones and other interactive digital access points. Then we seamlessly bring together the physical and the digital elements in the experience to create what I call converged experiences.”

Mandadi laid out his vision for a Disney theme park metaverse filled with converged experiences in a webcast presentation during the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo virtual education conference.

Disney’s theme park metaverse connects digital, data and physical elements into a “virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space,” according to Mandadi. In simpler terms, those converged experiences are tied together by a ton of tech — including mobile apps, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, computer vision and natural language understanding.

And you thought a day at Disneyland was nothing more than a spin on the Mad Tea Party and a bite at the Blue Bayou. There’s a massive amount of technology at work behind the scenes at Disney’s Anaheim theme parks.

Disneyland has come a long way from the linear storytelling of the Enchanted Tiki Room and other classic rides from the park’s earliest days. Toy Story Midway Mania and other interactive attractions paved the way for more immersive storytelling rides like Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. The next frontier at Disney theme parks are personalized and social metaverse experiences like the Galactic Starcruiser hotel coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida — and maybe someday to Disneyland.

“Because of the digital dimensions of these metaverse experiences they can be updated frequently and they stay fresh and relevant,” Mandadi said during the IAAPA presentation. “While I can’t shed a whole lot of details on the work underway, these types of experiences are a critical focus for us and we are ideating through many options. Some will come to fruition, some will not, but we expect them to be core to the guest experience in the years to come.”

Let’s take a closer look at the four ways technology plays a role in Disney’s theme park metaverse.

1) Mobile Apps

Let’s start with the technology that everyone is familiar with: Smartphone apps.

Visiting a Disney theme park today without a smartphone is nearly impossible to imagine. And your phone will only become more indispensable as Disney theme parks roll out more app-based services and experiences.

Mobile food orders at reopened Disney theme parks have skyrocketed from 9% of sales to an eye-popping 84% since the pandemic began. Cashless payments have reached nearly 90% in Disney theme parks.

Disneyland rolled out a virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance. The use of app-based virtual queues is expected to expand once Disney’s pandemic-shuttered parks reopen in Anaheim.

A series of interactive smartphone games on the Disney Play mobile app transformed Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge into an immersive real-world role-playing universe. And soon, the Play app will uncover additional storytelling layers in Disney theme parks, according to Mandadi.

“The Play app is evolving to be just one of the location-based platforms we are going to use in the Disney metaverse,” Mandadi said during the IAAPA presentation. “It’s not the end all for metaverse experiences in the parks. There could be many others.”

The still-unreleased Disney Genie itinerary planning app-based tool will provide customized itineraries, make recommendations and deliver real-time tips and updates.

“We want to make planning and enjoying a vacation at our parks stress free,” Mandadi said during the IAAPA presentation. “Don’t enjoy planning vacations? No problem. Want all the granular planning data? No problem. In the park, you change your mind and need a new itinerary? No worries. Genie will take care of it.”

The Disney theme park metaverse could even reach outside the berm of Disneyland.

“Extending the magic of Disney parks to home is now a real exciting possibility,” Mandadi said during the IAAPA presentation. “Imagine a day where guests can explore with pirates, train with heroes, dance with royalty and visit a galaxy far, far away without ever leaving their home.”

Mandadi envisions a day when Disney’s digital metaverse will be as popular as the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain attractions in Disneyland.

“So far, the digital experiences are simply augmenting and enhancing the physical experiences,” Mandadi said during the IAAPA presentation. “We fully expect, sooner than later, the metaverse experiences will be attractions on their own.”Let’s take a closer look at the four ways technology plays a role in Disney’s theme park metaverse.

2) Internet of Things

The Internet of Things includes any physical “thing” embedded with a sensor, software or other technology that exchanges data via the internet with other devices and computer systems.

What does IOT have to do with Disney theme parks?

Disney theme parks are already filled with a ton of IOT technology hidden behind the scenes. Disneyland’s Rise of the Resistance has an astonishing 15,000 IOT sensors that transmit data back to attraction operators from ride vehicles and track routes.

Disney theme parks use computer vision and artificial intelligence to develop predictive technology that works with high-tech sensors to help keep rides and attractions running with minimal disruptions, according to Mandadi.

“With this technology, we can optimize ride performance so that thousands more guests can experience the attraction,” Mandadi said during the IAAPA presentation. “That gives us a real leg up, especially in the capacity-constrained environment of COVID.”

3) Augmented Reality Augmented reality adds interactive elements to a live view of the real world using a smartphone. Disney has long been a proponent of augmented reality over virtual reality — which shuts out the physical world and immerses the user in a video game-like virtual world.

Disney parks largely avoided the first wave of VR gimmickry that invaded amusement parks when Six Flags and Cedar Fair introduced VR headsets on aging roller coasters in an attempt to freshen the rides.

Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios use AR training to teach Rise of the Resistance ride operators how to load and unload First Order Fleet Transport vehicles and operate the attraction dispatch board.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida has been testing a new Windows on the Wild AR experience with its animal safari expedition. The pilot program, which is not yet available to visitors, combines advanced radar technology with camera monitors hidden in the jungle foliage and aerial drone footage to give visitors an up-close look at the safari animals.

4) Artificial Intelligence Disney is developing artificial intelligence-driven virtual characters that can have personalized interactions with theme park visitors, according to Mandadi.

Walt Disney Imagineering created an animatronic bird that uses artificial intelligence and computer vision that resides in the queue of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout attraction at Disney California Adventure. The Vyloo bird interacts endlessly with its environment and curious visitors.

Disney Research Studios is using artificial intelligence to endow audio-animatronic characters with human qualities like perception, reasoning and problem solving.

Disney wants audio-animatronic figures in dark rides to track visitor’s eye movements. Gaze tracking technology patented by Disney would use cameras to detect where riders are looking. Stare too long at an animatronic character and it might talk to you — and use your name.

Disney also envisions using the gaze tracking technology with droids that will inhabit the new Galactic Starcruiser hotel at Disney World. The patented technology could drive lifelike conversations between droid bartenders and guests at the hotel’s bar.
Attractions Referenced

Enchanted Tiki Room

Haunted Mansion

Mad Tea Party

Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Space Mountain

Star Wars Rise Of The Resistance

Restaurants Referenced

Blue Bayou Restaurant

Lands Referenced

Star Wars Galaxys Edge

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