Walt Disney Co has been granted a patent to project moving 3D images onto real-world objects to interact with theme park guests, making it easier to create interactive attractions at all of its theme parks.
The US Patent Office last month approved Disney Enterprises’ patent for technology described as a “virtual world simulator”. Disney officials say they have no immediate plans to use the technology.
The Burbank-based media giant is already using 3D projectors to project moving images onto jets of water in light shows dubbed “World of Color” at Disney California Adventure and “Fantasmic” at Disneyland as well as onto buildings and rides during nighttime fireworks on Main Street USA.
The technology described in the patent would not be aimed at a large audience, but rather would track individual visitors around parks and project images specifically for them onto nearby objects, buildings and walls. Imagine you are walking along a wall and Mickey Mouse appears to be waving and dancing in front of you.
According to the patent, people wouldn’t have to wear special glasses or headsets to see the images.
Visitors could be tracked via their smartphones or other devices they carry so that tracking information could be relayed to a computer connected to projection devices located at theme parks. After locating visitors, the “Virtual World Simulator” could project an image of a Disney character in front of guests, with hidden speakers providing voices for an immersive experience, according to the patent.
Instead of building animatronic characters or hiring costumed actors to entertain and communicate with guests, Disney could use technology to interact with guests through 3D projections, according to experts who read the patent.
A large-scale version of so-called projection mapping technology has become popular in theme parks and other entertainment venues. The technology uses lasers to scan the surface of buildings and structures to create a virtual 3D landscape which is uploaded to a digital server so that 3D projectors have the ability to project images onto uneven surfaces, such as trees or buildings.
For Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2015, digital magic was used to project Disney characters onto the facades of Main Street buildings. At Universal Studios Hollywood, Projection Mapping appears outside of Hogwarts in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and as part of the Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest attraction.
“What it does is free them up so they don’t have to follow the laws of physics anymore,” said John DeStefano, technology counsel for Founders Legal, a business and corporate law firm. intellectual property in Atlanta.
A Disney spokesperson said the company “files hundreds of patents each year as we explore developing technologies.”
“We are excited about the possibilities with this type of technology,” the Disney spokesperson said, adding that “there are currently no plans to introduce this technology in any future experience.”
In 2016, Disney filed a patent on a device that would take images of visitors’ shoes to gather data and help personalize tours. The patent describes a machine that takes photos of visitors’ feet as they enter a theme park and matches the photos with voluntarily provided demographic information, such as name, age or hometown.
Later in the park, another camera aimed at shoe level could identify a person at a ride or restaurant based on the previous foot photo, according to the patent. Disney has yet to release what the patent describes as “a system and method using foot recognition to create a personalized customer experience.”
Patent experts point out that companies sometimes take out a patent simply to prevent their competitors from using the same technology.
“They may never use it, but I have a feeling it’s something they’re going to market,” said Ed Khalili, patent attorney at Founders Legal. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service