You’re on Walt Disney World’s ride Flight of Passage, and you start feeling queasy — that turkey leg you had for lunch is like a rock in your stomach.
Sensing your distress, the flying banshee you’re on seems to become tamer. It levels off, slows down and flies much closer to the surface of Pandora.
Disney Enterprises has been seeking new patents for ride technology that could pick a route for your car — or boat or banshee — based on how frightened the guest is. Patent applications describing such technology have been evolving over recent years. The U.S. Patent Office just approved such a patent in October for Disney; on Thursday, the company filed an application for a patent that could be used in any environment.
“They’ve filed something now that is broader,” said Terry Sanks, registered patent attorney in Orlando, who reviewed the patent. “Disney isn’t limited just to theme parks. They could be wanting to use it in other venues, like cruise ships.”
Disney’s general policy is to decline comment on patent development; its media office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
If it doesn’t use the technology, Disney could license it out, Sanks said.
“A lot of Disney’s research is focused on customizing the guest experience. It’s obviously a huge challenge when you have millions of guests coming through the parks, but it may very well be critical to their future,” said Bob Boyd, a research analyst who covers such topics as gaming and leisure. He said money invested in “game changer” tech is money well spent.
Besides heart rate, recent Disney patent applications also said future tech could monitor skin temperature, facial expressions, voice stress, gestures, and even eye movement.
The system could also maintain “an appropriate level of fear” or expose the guest to “more-frightening haunted house features if guest is bored,” according to the application.
The technology described brings to mind early development of Disney’s Magic Band, the wristband that is connected to the Internet and tracks payment at concessions, Fast Passes for rides, overall schedule and even friends or family members.
Disney engineers, or Imagineers, were reportedly inspired by Nike SportBand, which launched in 2008, according to Wired and other news outlets. The Nike product syncs electronically with a heart rate monitor and a pedometer.
“If the heart rate measurements from [a] sensor indicate that guest is frightened, control system will route car to less-frightening ride segment,” Disney patent applications say. “In contrast, if the heart rate measurements indicate that guest is bored, control system will route car to more-frightening ride segment.”
Disney holds large numbers of patents and seeks more each year. Seeking a patent doesn’t mean the entertainment and media giant has any immediate plans to use the technology.
But Disney fought a patent battle over related technologies — dubbed only “Interactivity Based on Sensor Measurements” — for about 10 years, according to U.S. Patent Office records. That is not typical, said Sanks, managing partner at Beusse Wolter Sanks & Maire in Orlando.
“Companies like Disney, if they are filing for a patent, it’s something their engineers have determined is viable to the company,” he said.
Collecting so much data about a guest might require new waivers signed by guests. Disney wouldn’t necessarily have to store the data.
Either way, such technology might also cause guests to be a little more conscious of how they are reacting to a ride. If you close your eyes, you might be put in the slow lane.
Disney Imagineers David Crawford, David Durham and Jon Georges are listed as inventors on the patent applications.