Disney Applies for Three Drone-Related Patents for Theme Parks

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 26 2014 11:33 AM

Disney Applies for Three Drone-Related Patents for Theme Parks

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All that's missing is a drone.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If the screaming tots, steep prices, and humid Orlando weather weren’t enough to deter you from a trip to Disney World, then perhaps the prospect of a giant Cruella de Vil marionette being wielded by flying drones may do it.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, Disney has applied for three drone- (or unmanned aerial vehicle-) related patents to be used in their theme parks. The first describes an aerial display system, with drones choreographed to form displays of floating pixels (or "flixels," as the application calls it), in a manner potentially similar to fireworks. The second uses drones to fly and position flexible projection screens on which light could be reflected above a crowd. And lastly, of course, to manipulate the appendages of “blimp-sized” Disney character string puppets. (You really must check out the patent illustration for that one.)

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The patent applications suggest that the use of drones could eliminate some major issues associated with outdoor events. “Presently, aerial displays have been limited in how easy it has been to alter the choreography and to provide a repeatable show,” the application reads. Further down, it says, “Other aerial shows rely on fireworks, which can be dangerous to implement and often provide a different show result with each use. Other displays may us aircraft such as blimps dragging banners or even large display screens. While useful in some settings, these aircraft-based displays typically have been limited in size and use only a small number of aircraft and display devices.”

Even friendly-sounding drones performing aerial spectaculars above “Typhoon Lagoon” may seem like a dubious idea to some observers, given how drones loom in popular imagination. But Disney has not shied away from using controversial new technologies in the past. Its RFID-equipped “MagicBands,” announced in 2013, can act as ticket, credit card, and even hotel room key for Disney World visitors, and also use sensors to track their movements and personalize park activities. Concerns were immediately raised about the bands potential use as data trackers that could compromise patron privacy, especially that of young children.

If Disney starts using drones in their theme parks, you can be sure that other entertainment venues will follow suit. It can’t be long until the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade features a giant drone-flown turkey floating high above Central Park West.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ariel Bogle is an associate editor based at New America with the Future Tense program. Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

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