Disney may use the magic of drones in future theme park shows


August 31, 2014

A number of patent applications suggest Disney is looking to use UAVs in its theme park shows (Photo: Hatchapong Palurtchaivong /

A number of patent applications suggest Disney is looking to use UAVs in its theme park shows (Photo: Hatchapong Palurtchaivong /

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The weird and wonderful world of Disney may be about to get a little more weird and wonderful, depending on how you feel about drones. The Walt Disney Company has filed three patents suggesting it may intend to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to control giant marionettes, replace fireworks and suspend floating displays in its future theme park shows.

The first of Disney's patent applications is titled Aerial Display System With Floating Pixels and details a system consisting of a ground station module for processing flight paths of a fleet of UAVs, each of which is equipped with a propulsion device and display payload.

These payloads would include a lighting assembly with one or more color streams to form floating pixels, or "flixels" as Disney calls them. These flixels could fly in formation to create two- or three-dimensional displays that would mimic fireworks. The reusable flixels would offer a more sustainable alternative to current firework displays, with Disney claiming they would also be safer to implement.

The second patent application describes a display system made up of floating projector screens. A number of UAVs would carry a series of flexible projector screens to create floating aerial displays. The screens would include a mesh body for reduced wind resistance and would also be controlled by a fleet manager module on the ground.

Perhaps the boldest of Disney's forward-thinking plans involves a flock of UAVs tethered to huge marionettes. This system would also be controlled by a module on the ground, pulling the strings on Disney's larger-than-life puppet shows. The company's vision doesn't stop there, however, with the patent application also describing how the system would allow certain characters to literally fly through the air.

"The aerial displays described herein were designed and created because it was understood by the inventors that many characters fly in their stories (such as in a book or movie) but, prior to the inventors' aerial displays, it was typically not technically feasible to create a flying object that mimics the characters such as due to size, weight, dimensions, or other design challenges," the patent application reads.

This isn't the first time Disney has dabbled in robotics. Last year it teamed up with researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to look at ways of making interactions between humans and robots feel more natural. As for taking its exploits to the skies, this shapes as new territory not just for Disney, but for drone applications in general. One thing is certain, if these audacious plans come to fruition it won't just be kids at Disneyland whose imaginations are captured.

Source: US Patent & Trademark Office

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

Oh, what fund is going to be had in the hacker community as they attempt to make these things do exactly what they are not meant to do. Let's hope that Disney have a further patent in the works describing some means of ensuring that the links to the ground station module are completely impervious to any attempt to override its commands. Even then they are going to have to ensure that no one is beneath the performance in case a drone drops out of the sky due to 'ill health'.

On a more general note, I cannot see what is so fundamentally new that it can be awarded a patent. It all seems achievable using current technology.

Mel Tisdale

"This isn't the first time Disney has dabbled in robotics." is a bit of an understatement . . . The Enchanted Tiki Room opened at Disneyland in 1963 with its Audio Animatronic birds, flowers and tikis. It seems to me Disney has a longer history of actually using robotics in production than most companies.

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