"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Friday, September 23, 2016

37 Days: New Disney Patents

I wrote a couple weeks ago about Disney filing a patent application for dron.....I mean "Flying Robots" that would launch fireworks and other goodies into the sky during park shows. Well, apparently it's Patent Application Season, because I've seen news of two more pop up this week, and both are just as cool as the Flying Fireworks Robots.

The first patent involves a projector that would essentially theme a space (like a resort room) in any way Disney desires. The application is very technical and goes pretty far over my head, but it looks like a lamp or ceiling fixture would be fitted with apparatus allowing animated objects to appear around the space and, along with integrated audio, turn the room into an immersive, themed experience. As I understand it, it would be a lot like virtual reality games but your room would take the place of wearing VR goggles.

The possibilities are huge, both for good and, well, a bit evil. According to the Orlando Business Journal article,

The patent also looks at including a tracking camera that can be programmed to remember a user's facial features and then change the imagery to that person's settings — or in another case can be used to wake up a child by projecting images onto their bed.

Waking a child by projecting images onto his or her bed? That could be way too much fun.....

The second patent is an attempt to make animatronics, especially faces of speaking human animatronic figures, more life-like. The Imagineers have for decades been able to make very real seeming figures, such as those in the Hall of Presidents, but when they speak, the movement of the figures' mouths tend to give them away as robots. The most recent fix for this problem has been to leave the figure's head kind of a blank slate and project a moving, speaking image onto it. This works great on Buzz in is Space Ranger Spin, but apparently not as well on the new Frozen attraction in Epcot's Norway pavilion. No matter how well done, we are looking at two very different technologies and the realism isn't quite there.

The fix in this patent application is based upon building animatronic muscle-like material underneath a "skin" so that when the muscles underneath the skin it looks like a human does when it speaks. The problem with the old animatronics was that the movement points, the pieces of robot that actually moved, were very visible.  This new system spreads the movement along an artificial muscle-like material so the face moves realistically. I think I grasp this concept better than the virtual reality projector, but it still leaves room for  being a tad creepy. I mean, just how life-like are we comfortable with our animatronics looking? Science fiction has delved into the idea of humanoid robots and it doesn't always end well, does it?

Still, all three of these new ideas are completely in keeping with Disney's history. I am thrilled to see the Walt Disney Company continuing to follow in the footsteps of its founders by keeping on the cutting edge of entertainment technology.

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