Disney and Universal Studios goes the AR/VR Way

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If there is one place that can make science seem like fantasy even to the most logical mind, that’s a theme park. Technologies power theme park attractions and make the experience appear seamless, and these are further powered by a large number of patents. From Disney to… (Featured image is intended for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from http://www.167aw.ang.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001597625/)

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If there is one place that can make science seem like fantasy even to the most logical mind, that’s a theme park. Technologies power theme park attractions and make the experience appear seamless, and these are further powered by a large number of patents. From Disney to Universal Studios, every major theme park is striving to integrate the fictional world with the real one across rides, explorations, attractions and more by leveraging Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies.

Although VR was introduced more than three decades ago, it became commercially viable for the entertainment industry only a few years back. Improvements brought in by the AR-VR power has contributed to creating extreme innovations in the theme park industry. Fans of Harry Potter, Despicable Me, and Marvel’s superheroes can now interact with their favorite fictional characters in their favorite fictional world through AR/VR technology.

Patent US9690375B2 granted to Universal City Studios describes the use of AR goggles in amusement rides to engage visitors with an immersive experience. The patent describes a method to project images of monsters, obstructions and other fictional characters along the track ride of a rollercoaster. The patent also captures the possibility of a mixed reality experience.

Figure 1: This figure from patent US9690375B2 shows different characters and projections appearing in front of a person during a rollercoaster ride.

While Universal Studios has embraced VR to enhance its theme park experience, Disney is not supportive of this technology as VR provides a complete virtual world and currently provides a solo experience, while AR can be used to overlay some of the virtual components in the real world. Noticeably, Disney CEO Bob Iger has out rejected the use of VR in its theme parks as VR provides a one-to-one experience and one does not need to go to an amusement park to experience it. It might as well be experienced at home. Therefore, Disney has partnered with Magic Leap, a company that is providing them with a headset to overlay the virtual world on the real world (the concept called Mixed Reality). According to this article, the projections created appear vividly real, allowing the user to almost feel the presence of the virtual objects with them. Add to this the ability to provide other components such as texture and moisture, and the difference between the real and virtual world is almost bridged.

In many ways, AR and VR technologies might put us in a Matrix-like situation. This is the concept that theme parks today are desiring to bring into effect, and researchers are making the most to make them possible. Take for instance patent application US20180008897A1 titled “Location-Based Experience with Interactive Merchandise”. This patent application allows for use of merchandises to enable interactive experiences. It describes the use of a zone in the theme park which is equipped with multiple sensors to detect a player’s gestures. A player may use gloves and make magic or show off magical powers virtually or use gestures to fight an opponent in a game. The application mentions gloves are used to activate an image of spraying of ice particles. So, you can expect its implementation in the Frozen movie area at Walt Disney World Resort in future. A variation of this technique can be used with a Spider-Man theme. Another example of its implementation is in Star Wars, where a person wearing a Darth Vader glove can perform projections of a Sith reacting to force powers by performing simple gestures. Disney specially seems to file patents that might have applications in a Star Wars environment.

Figures 2: The image on the left shows Elsa from Frozen movie who could create and control ice and snow using her hand. The image on the left from patent application US20180008897A1 shows a simulation for “freezing” magic powers.

Another patent application US20180137680A1, titled ‘Augmented Reality Interactive Experience’, describes a computer that controls a head-mounted display (HMD) and uses infrared-based peripherals that point to a lightsaber-like sword. This could possibly make way for lightsaber duels between Jedis and the Siths at the theme park. The AR zone where the ‘action’ is set to take place will consist of cameras that detect signals contained in the headset. The software that runs the experience keeps track of player positions and the hits from IR devices. Although AR/VR applications have been used in previous Star Wars Worlds, these improvements provide new experiences going well beyond the already existing technologies. It goes on to bring in experiences such as taste and smell and can adjust them based on a user.

Figures 3: The image on the left is a still from the movie Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and shows a lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. The image on the right from patent US20180137680A1 depicts a virtual lightsaber-like sword blade emitting IR light.

For Marvel fans, Disney has multiple patents for Captain America’s shield, including one design patent USD819750 and one utility patent application US20170168556A1, which provides a boomerang experience by using VR. The shield attaches to a person’s forearm and slides down a rail on encountering a throwing motion. VR simulates the path traced by the shield based on the user’s throw action.

Figure 4: Image from patent US20170168556A1 showing a Captain America’s shield-shaped boomerang

While these experiences get better by the day, AR and VR are set to revolutionize entertainment in a virtually real way.

(Featured image is intended for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from http://www.167aw.ang.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001597625/)

Shagun Joshi
Shagun Joshi

A patent engineer by profession, Shagun likes the smell of old books. She has interest in reading about current technologies that can bridge the gap between reality and fiction.


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