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Patent Pending

March 31, 2010 2 comments

I started my blog with the intent of providing a public forum in which I could publish and share my ideas and market my own inventions to the Disney community. However, that’s not to say that I won’t talk about other’s ideas, especially if they’re Disney-related.

As an inventor, I like to keep up with other inventors and inventions that have recently been patented. Occasionally I will see something that strikes my own creativity. Recently, while reading thru some patent news, I stumbled across a few interesting patents possibly relating to the parks that Disney has been granted.

Standalone flame simulator – March 30, 2010 – Patent: 7686471

This one isn’t all that significant as far as the parks and a noticeable impact on guests go, but I do find it interesting in that it’s a new, high tech approach on a theater lighting effect that’s been around for many many years. You’ve probably seen the old version of this where there is a colored light hidden out of sight with a fan blowing upward on some colored strips of fabric to simulate fire. It’s used quite a bit in a few scenes of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

Well, Disney has apparently figured out a way to improve on the old design. The new design they have patented, uses multiple LED bulbs in different colors plus smart programming to vary the intensity of the lights, plus the fabric as before and of course fans to blow the fabric. I haven’t see one outside of the drawings, but I would guess to say that it makes for a much more realistic effect since they’re using multiple colors in their design. I would also venture to guess that because it uses LED bulbs it’s going to use less energy to power and require less maintenance to change bulbs and the fabric due to heat scorching. Hopefully this will make it to the parks in the near future. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

07686471-007

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of an operating standalone flame simulator of the present invention including an outer housing or shell and installed flame elements with the housing partially cutaway to show the fan, the chimney or air manifold, and the flame elements and the associated method of mounting;

Cable tow whip ride – March 30, 2010 -  Patent: 7685944

If you’re a theme park junky like me, you’ve probably seen the old “Whip” amusement park ride. If not, take a look at the video below.

The concept, and patent for this version debuted in 1914.

Disney appears to have improved on this concept in a way where the cars are able to be “whipped” both left and right in a less predictable manner than the original which pretty much just went around in an elongated circle.

Here’s how the patent describes it:

Briefly, embodiments of the present invention are directed to ride designs and systems for use in amusement parks and similar settings to provide an enhanced and unique whip ride experience. The conventional whip ride has remained unchanged over its long history, and, while popular for some park guests, the above-ground and one-sided attachment features have resulted in a ride in which only outside turns or curves are possible, which severely limits its design with most classic whip rides being a simple oval shaped course or path. In contrast, ride systems or whip rides of the invention provide a drive system that allows inside and outside curves for whip effects in both directions (e.g., a whip vehicle that may be spun or rotated clockwise and counterclockwise about a pivot point or pivotable attachment).

The interesting part of Disney’s design, is they use a familiar looking image in the sketch. 07685944-007

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the tractor in this image resembles the tractors from CARS. Judge for yourself.

Cars-tractor

Vehicle and track system for flying corner amusement park ridesMarch 16, 2010 –  Patent: 7677179

This one is a bit more complicated, but interesting. It’s a new concept for a flying turns/bobsled type of coaster. Basically the coaster car rides on a train and traditional styled tubular steel (assumed) track, but the train itself pivots left and right to simulate the motion of riding in a bobsled-like pipe. The sketch below shows an example, but it’s a little bit hard to make out what it does. If you look at item 750 in the drawing there is an arrow that rocks left and right.

Photo courtesy USPTO.govNow, is it just me, or does that train have a familiar look to it, or what? I know I’ve seen a train that looks like that somewhere in a Disney park.

MatterhornBobsled2000_wbMaybe it’s just me, but I think it looks a LOT like Disneyland’s bobsled train. But, wouldn’t that make sense? I mean, if you’re going to create a design for a new styled bobsled coaster train, wouldn’t you put it on the Matterhorn? So, could a new train design be in the works for Disneyland and this 51-year old rollercoaster?  This would add a whole other dimension and new experience for this classic Grandfather of the modern steel rollercoaster.

Here’s some more details on the drawing.

FIG. 7 illustrates another embodiment of a track and vehicle assembly 700 of the invention. As shown, a track assembly 730 is provided that includes a track 733 with a curved, upward facing contact surface (e.g., a circle segment with a particular arc or segment length). The track 733 is supported on or protrudes from support member 736. The assembly 700 further includes the vehicle or car 710 mounted to ride upon the track 733 such as with skids or wheels that ride upon the contact surface of track 733. The vehicle 710 has seats 712 for passengers or guests (e.g., 2 to 6 or more guests). The vehicle 710 has a body 711 than has a length, L.sub.car, and during operation the vehicle 710 travels along the track 733 in the direction shown with arrow 751 (i.e., the direction of travel). The vehicle 710 may be a powered vehicle or may move based on gravity (e.g., as is the case with many roller coaster-type rides).

Although shown in a straight, non-banked form, the track assembly 730 may have sections where the track 733 is provided in banked curves with a substantial portion of the contact surface of the track 733 provided at an angle relative to a horizontal plane. In such banked portions of the ride assembly 700, the vehicle 710 is able to move transversely relative to the direction of travel 751 as shown with arrow 750. To allow this to occur safely, the vehicle 710 includes arms 714, 716 that extend over and capture or enclose the tips or ends 732 of the track 733. The arms 714, 716 define a guide slot or groove shaped to receive the track 733 and with a width and thickness (or height) greater than the width and thickness of the track 733. In some cases, the width of the guide slot may only be a few inches greater but in other applications the width of the guide slot may be several feet greater to allow the vehicle 710 a significant amount of travel transverse to the direction of travel 751 or longitudinal axis of track 733 such as 0 to 3 feet or more in either direction. In the embodiment shown, the arms 714, 716 each extend all or substantially all of the length of the car, L.sub.car (i.e., L.sub.car is approximately equal to or equal to the length of the arms, L.sub.arm).

Categories: Imagineering Tags: , ,

Disney Theme Parks 2.0

October 2, 2009 1 comment

So, we have the so-called web 2.0, which, to paraphrase is a more interactive (social) web, hence the blog you’re reading now, and allowed to post comments to. So why not “Theme Park 2.0″ that’s more interactive and responsive to the guest/visitor? I would like to lay claim to the label “Theme Park 2.0″, but in researching/writing this entry, I came across a blog posting at Theme Park Insider, by Robert Niles where he talks about some of what’s going on, not just at Disney, but other parks as well, and he calls it “Theme Park Interactivty 2.0″, so I’ll give him the credit, and as he said in his entry, this is “a topic that we ought to talk about more”.

I wasn’t able to attend D23, but in the days since it wrapped up, I’ve been reading, watching and listening to various people tell about some of the presentations that were shown, and I must say, I’m really hyped to hear what they’ve got planned. It really sounds like Disney has started a new chapter in the design and function of new attractions in their parks. Taking in all of the media from D23, led me to my own naming and further thoughts on where they might be headed.

Really though, while Disney may not necessarily choose to label their new creations how Robert or I would with the “2.0″ moniker, this new chapter appears to have actually started at least in part over 10 years ago with Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Sure, as some may say, it’s just a moving version of the Frontierland shooting gallery, but still, it takes interactivity up a level, and gives the rider somewhat of a different experience if not challenge when they ride it. In some sense, Toy Story Midway Mania took Buzz up at least another level if not 2 or 3. Yeah, at the core it’s still a moving shooting gallery, but it’s one that uses 3D screens and compressed air effects to react to you with a much broader range of actions, taking the fun, challenge and variety to a whole other level.

It’s nice to see that “2.0″ isn’t limited to just attractions either. Starting back a few years ago, Disney debuted their first walkabout animatronic, Lucky the Dinosaur. They’ve since followed with Muppet Mobile Labs and Wall-E. While I’ve yet to see any of them in person, I’m really impressed with what they’ve done with these and hope to see more of them in the future. These are great additions to the parks, and have the potential for creating a really unique experience for guests that they’re very unlikely to experience anywhere else. Another, who isn’t a walkabout, but still impressive, is Remy (the rat from Ratatouille) at Chefs De France in Epcot. And, while they’ve begun building walkabout animatronic characters, they haven’t forgotten or neglected the classic costumed characters such as Mickey, Minnie, Donald and others. They’ve given them sort of a “2.0″ upgrade by making their mouths and eyes actually move now instead of just being stationary. I have to admit though, while it was neat to see the first time, it’s also a little on the creepy side.

One of my favorite implementations of “2.0″ has to be the combination of  technology and show in what Disney calls the “Living Character Initiative”. First seen at Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, then Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club at Magic Kingdom, and the latest addition of Luxo Jr at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the recently opened and closed Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration. I still recall my first time seeing Crush and watching him interact with guests. Everyone in the room was completely in awe by this turtle from Finding Nemo moving around and talking right in front of us. To this day, it is still one of my favorite shows.  I like The Monsters Inc comedy show too, but it seems like they struggle more with the material and finding good comedic rhythm. Perhaps it’s just been the talent that was working the show on the two times I’ve seen it. Still, it’s a cute show with enough variety and interaction to make it an okay show. In my opinion, it could be a better show if they had a comic show writer to help freshen the material from time to time.

Other “2.0″ like features have also included Pal Mickey, which was a lug-around, somewhat plush Mickey reportedly with the guts of a PDA and infrared receiver that triggered specific phrases stored in his “brain”. Being a techno-Dinsey geek, I rushed out and bought one of these when they first came out. He was cute, but a little corny, and the tidbits of information he gave while you were roaming the parks made him slightly entertaining and fun to carry around, most of the time anyway. Sadly, he’s been discontinued now, and is no longer being sold in the parks, but from what I hear, the sensors that trigger him to talk are still in the parks and he will still work. Another of Disney’s latest interactive features, is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. Themed to Kim Possible, guests use a “Kimmunicator” that is actually a flip phone, and wander thru the different pavillions in World Showcase tracking clues sent via the device. The device will also trigger some effects when the guest is near or has found them. I like the concept of this, but I think the theming of Kim Possible is a bit late. Regardless, it’s still a neat new use of “2.0″ in the parks. Perhaps in the future they will expand this to other parks using other themes.

All of these lead in to the announcements made at D23. If they wind up doing everything they presented, it should make for some fun, interactive experiences never before seen. Let me just try to highlight what they presented. 

Probably one of the biggest attractions, they’ve ever designed and to be built, Radiator Springs Racers Disney’s California Adventure sounds like it will have a few new “2.0″ features. At the core of this is what’s being called a next gen Test Track with 2 tracks side by side where riders will race each other thru Radiator Springs. I’m not real sure what next gen means in terms of Test Track, but the riders will experience what sounds like a few different interactive features where the riders can choose different stops along the route like Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, or Ramone’s House of Body Art.

The new Fantasyland upgrade/expansion at Magic Kingdom, is chock full of new “2.0″ features.  In Cinderella’s country chateau, behind the castle, guests will get to witness her fairy godmother magically  transform the princess from her servant’s clothes into her ball gown right before their eyes. Afterwhich, they will help her practie for the ball or train to be one of her royal knights. One that’s interesting and a bit mysterious is the Beauty and the Beast adventure. Apparently there will be a “magic mirror” at Belle’s father’s cottage that will somehow transport guests to the Beast’s castle. Once in the castle, they will get to participate in retelling the Beauty and the Beast by performing it for Belle. Another mystery is the “interactive games” that were promised to eliminate the queue for Dumbo. All of these sound quite intriguing, but so far are details on them are rather sketchy.

Moving out of the Magic Kingdom, over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is probably one of the more exciting (for me at least) attractions, rather upgrades, and that’s Star Tours II. It may be a stretch to put the “2.0″ label on this yet, because details on this are sketchy as well. But, from the sound of things, this attraction is prime material for having some real “2.0″ style features. It’s being reported that there are at least a couple of different scenes from the different Star Wars movies. The trailer used at D23 showed a sequence from the pod races on Anakin’s home planet, Tatooine. Also, the attraction will be in 3D.

The best thing that new “2.0″ features offer is the relative ease and flexibility in changing and enhancing an attraction. Not necessarily a “2.0″ feature, but the guys at Imagineering were very wise when the built the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s unknown if they intended to change up the drop sequences when they first bult the attraction, but by making some programming changes, they transformed the ride into something that’s potentially different every time, or at the least it’s a random experience which the rider doesn’t know or expect. By designing attractions with this kind of flexibility, hopefully it will allow them to stick around long after they might have been otherwise replaced. This kind of branches into a future entry I’m working on regarding the chemistry of classic attractions, and how there haven’t been very many in the last 15-20 years. But, like I said, that’s a future entry.

All of  this is a natural and very welcome evolution of (Disney) theme park attractions. And, I believe it’s what Walt had in mind by constantly pushing the envelope, looking for new and exciting ways to entertain people.

I neglected to mention, The Orlando Sentinel also posted an article along these lines, titled: Theme Parks’ Goal: Less watching, More Doing, it’s worth a read.

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