Theme Park Tech: What's Next? | Other Orlando

  • Yes, we all know you hate…absolutely hate… standing in line to ride, say, the Hulk. But just how much do you hate it?

    Enough to avoid those lines, certainly.

    And enough to pay more for FastPasses and similar ways to avoid those waits…that’s a certainty.

    But could there be a time when there will be no lines at all?

    Not that far away, either?

    And you may not even have to pay more for it…

    That possibility arises as Orlando’s No. 1 and No. 2 theme parks square off for a future battle.

    Over technology.

    When Disney opened in 1971, they they had the theme park world in Orlando all to themselves. But then came Universal, the late comer. New kid on the block.

    But not for long.

    And a definite overachiever.

    In recent years, the two parks have fought fiercely for visitors.

    Which has been good for us…the park users who have benefitted from the many additional rides and other visitor perks.

    Park battle makes us the winners

    Whatever else you think of theme park decisions to keep or remove characters…or to raise Disney World ticket prices…or to offer or not Universal Studios discount tickets…or to extend operating hours…

    You should be able to agree on one single item: competition has been good for you.

    Which brings us to who was first this time.

    Yes, one or the other is almost always first, Disney or Universal. Followed by the competitor.

    Disney was first.

    In the case we are talking about.

    But now there’s news (from Motley Fool) that Universal parent Comcast has been surveying park guest’s about Disney’s MyMagic+ and MagicBand technology.

    As you know, those bands are bracelets with embedded RFID chips.

    Used to enter the parks, access expedited lines for three rides and attractions reserved ahead of time. Also, as claims for on-ride photos.

    The bands are also used by guests staying on-site to charge purchases.

    Universal eyes Disney’s $1 billion investment

    This was a $1 billion investment in technology for Disney, according to various accounts.

    “But that’s just starting to scratch the surface,” the Fool says.

    Eventually, once guests get used to the idea (and any privacy fears die down), characters at meet-and-greet can address you by name.

    Smartphones can be used to find where there are shorter waiting lines.

    But there are a lot of other uses as well.

    As Disney ticket prices and Universal Studios Orlando tickets continue to go up (each one’s pricing strategy goes up in tandem, one follows the other). The relative newcomer continues to close the gap between the two.

    Universal has been reportedly asking ticket-holders just what they are willing to pay for their very own RFID wristbands.

    Concludes Motley:

    “The war for theme park supremacy in Central Florida is about to get even more interesting.”

    As we said, all to the advantage of us, ticket holders.

    But what else can we expect from technology in the future?

    The Disney and future Universal technology has many implications in a variety of areas. One is what are known as “flat rides.”

    These in the future can cater very specifically to you.

    Heart rate monitors, audio input, and individual touch-screens could design your experience in mere seconds.

    You would select an intensity level through the heart rate bar in front of your seat.

    Through the ride, it measures your body’s response to flips, spins, twirls, etc. Your heart rate would go up (depending on your own setting of intensity).

    Also letting you say stop

    There would also be a control to say “stop.”

    Connect this concept to RFID bracelets and the ride could track your preferences.

    So it knows what you prefer the next time.

    One of the biggest impacts of technology will obviously be for rides, particularly thrilling ones. One trend expected to continue cruising: interactive roller coasters.

    First, a brief history.

    Amusement parks have come a long way since Coney Island’s Switchback Railway roller coaster ushered in the “gravity pleasure ride” industry in 1884.

    Fast forward to next year, when the world’s tallest skyscraper at 570 feet (that is far more than the length of a football field) opens in Orlando. It will travel to almost 150 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds.

    Let’s cite some quickly developing ways technology will make your theme park visit easier, faster and far more enjoyable.

    One example of something opening this year is not from Disney or Universal. But nearby Busch Gardens in Tampa.

    It’s Cobra’s Curse.

    A spin coaster that is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. It features a vertical lift for a face-to-face encounter with an 80-foot-tall snake.

    Following that encounter, riders will find a quick-turning descent around a banked track, with the cars revolving to face forwards and backwards at different points.

    The cars will also be spinning on their axes, which park officials say makes it unique in the coaster world.

    No surprise: space center uses high-tech

    Perhaps not unexpectedly, the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will also have a new attraction high in tech knowhow.

    “Heroes and Legends” at the US Astronaut Hall of Fame will use holograms and augmented reality to let visitors experience the thrills (and dangers) of space missions. Various high-tech elements and special effects are promised.

    Getting back to Orlando….More than one prediction involves the very nature of simply buying Universal Studios Orlando tickets or Disney tickets. The move is towards kiosks such as airlines are already doing. Self-service combined with online admission sales.

    So where does paper and coin currency go in the future?

    The way of the dinosaur.

    But here’s something else that will have a major impact on those irksome lines.

    Advances in tickets will be greatly aided by the proliferation of IT hardware among the general public.

    In the next few years, theme parks and others will need little IT hardware.

    Instead, you will be able to book rides in advance with your devices. These devices communicate the transaction to the ride. It is similar again to booking airline tickets that are then digitally paid through Google Wallet, Apple Pay, PayPal, etc.

    Future of tech is virtual reality

    But the real future of where theme parks are going may be viewed in

    Utah. Here, a virtual reality entertainment company plans a theme park blending immersive digital experiences with physical feedback.

    Which will alter the senses of users.

    The Denmark company planning the so-called “Void” park has plans to open theme parks all over the world after the first one in Utah opens later this year.

    “The Void is about creating the most immersive technology, so instead of sitting at your desk, you walk around an environment. It is a tangible world that seems like it never ends, people like to feel that they are somewhere else, and feel the mist in a cave or the heat from a fire - or believe that they are going up in an elevator."

    Void’s founder Curtis Hickman said that to the BBC television network.

    Void Game Pods are reputed to deliver physical sensations including “elevation changes, touch, vibrations, air pressure, cold and heat, moisture, simulated liquids and smell”.

    The company has recruited staff from the likes of Pixar, Hasbro, Disney and Electronic Arts.

    The BBC News says Void “delivers fantasy gaming scenarios to users, hoping to blend animation, creativity and tech to usurp the wonderment of existing theme parks.

    A reporter who tested the “Void” found himself in a small room that felt much larger where the walls crumbled. He said:

    “Entering the Void was a very different experience and felt like I had finally fulfilled my childhood dream of stepping inside the TV. Despite believing entirely in the world I entered - and feeling like Indiana Jones - I didn't scream when I met a monster or fall down a pit having failed to solve the problem correctly.”

    How it works

    One description went this way:

    “If you've heard anything about the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for gaming and other video simulations, the VOID is the next logical step: entire buildings corresponding to a video game world. Players move through an alien landscape while firing guns or slaying dragons.”

    But what does this mean for the nearer future? And in Orlando?

    Start with drones.

    And while you think military when you conjure up drones, there are many peaceful uses for theme parks.

    Disney filed for three drone-related patents.

    What these do is envision flying robots that envision animating giant puppets. They also could carry projection screens and even act as floating pixels, or "flixels," in virtual fireworks shows.

    One safe-to-say and obvious prediction:

    Everything (few exceptions) at theme parks in the future will be more interactive and multisensory.

    Cynthia Sharpe, an executive with the Thinkwell Group, had some thoughta on this involving Universal, Disney and other parks when she told FunWorld:

    “Several of our projects are leveraging novel approaches and technology to guest engagement, really sinking the guest into the story. We’re already seeing the rise of boutique experiences, like small-group escape games, Ollivander’s Wand Shop at Universal, and highly interactive meet-and-greets like ‘Enchanted Tales with Belle’ at Disney."

    Rich Hill, the senior designer at Sally Corporation, added this thought about lines:

    “In the future, once guests pass through the turnstiles, they should have a nonstop flood of experiences that all relate to one another. Guests will no longer wait in long lines because the attractions will flow into one another seamlessly.”

    Darker ideas on the horizon

    Themes will also get darker. With more and scarier options (but many will not be external but internal, individual choices).

    “There’s nothing as impactful or as terrifying as entering a room with multiple doorways and thus multiple possibilities,” said one game designer.

    This option is not just good for designers but also for guests.’

    “Multiple ride paths, interactive game engines, and on-demand variable media will allow us to create rides that are constantly changing and morphing, encouraging repeat ridership like never before.”

    Some rides such as Hollywood, Rip, Ride, Rockit now allow guests to choose the songs for the trip.

    But more choices are coming for the layout that will be experienced.

    On-board vote buttons will offer experience choices.

    How about cantilevered coasters?

    These could “revolutionize the industry by taking the thrill ride to the next level of unpredictability and excitement,” according to some predictions.

    Cantilevered coasters (CRC’s) use two tracks, one above the other.

    Thrill ride unlike any others

    Without going into all the technical details, the lower tracks follow a slightly different course than the upper track. So guests sway in a side-to-side motion.

    Riders get pitched front to back, and up and down.

    The result is a totally unpredictable ride experience.

    Then, there’s what is known as the “dark ride” part (we’ll get to explaining why later).

    This widely anticipated ride will use actual sets and 3-D media to immerse riders in a story such as “The Wizard of Oz.” The ride system would be a launched coaster that would be capable of moving through environments at a slower, dark ride-style pace as well as at high-speed, true thrill-ride levels.

    But the most ambitious aspect of this ride is that it would involve a tall coaster of 200 feet or so with huge drops and plenty of airtime, simulating a tornado or perhaps flying witches (ala the Wizard).

    All this would be housed in an enormous building that is big enough to have a full-size coaster go through it.

    Riders would see incredibly large screens up to 300 feet high, but still would be able to understand the action and actually feel a part of the story.

    The ride would involve slower, more conventional “dark ride” sequences as well as high-speed coaster parts.

    It’s far from a coaster, but you can take Disney’s famous “Pirates of the Caribbean” as an example of how technology might evolve into a very different ride.

    More than just a boat ride

    This boat ride, as enjoyable as it might be, has evolved very little over the length of its existence. It’s mostly a series of scenes with jerky animatronic characters.

    But in the future, it could take guests through a series of scenes depicting a raging battle between the British Navy and a band of pirate outlaws.

    Interactive sections could have riders operating a "cannon" on their boat. That would trigger explosions in the scenes in front of them (with the location of the explosion changing depending on the rider’s aim).

    But riders in the boats would also tilt during key moments to simulate the impact of enemy fire rocking their vessels.

    Outdated animatronics would be replaced by physical sets and 3-D holograms.

    Scenarios would vary, depending on riders’ aim and other factors such as return fire.

    Not everything in future changes will be obvious or will have major impacts on visitors.

    For better or worse, global warming will also have an impact.

    LEGOLAND in Winter Haven is already using renewable energy to power part of the park. Other parks are considering cutbacks in landscaping efforts to reduce water consumption.

    Since a large portion of a park’s efforts involve energy, that effort is expected to be copied by many others.

    It will all be part of the brave new world of theme parks.

    Future theme parks, we mean.

    And not so far into the future. ###