If the term “Disney drone army” scares you, you might not want to keep reading.
The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) this month submitted patent applications for three inventions that would involve the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, according to filings with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The patents, which appear to be related to entertainment displays at Disney’s theme parks, will necessitate what the company describes as a “plurality” of drones for “presenting an aerial display over an audience of spectators.” The displays include such wonders as flying projection screens and a synchronized display with floating pixels, or “flixels.” One patent envisions a giant Disney-style marionette controlled by flying robots.
The patents are credited to three inventors -- Clifford Wong, James Alexander Stark and Robert Scott Trowbridge -- whom MarketWatch identified as part of Disney’s "Imagineering" team. In their notes, the inventors say the drones will use pre-programmed flight plans to control their positions within the display air space.
Each patent includes a series of diagrams, one of which features a marionette that looks like a giant Jack Skellington, the lead character from Tim Burton’s 1993 animated feature “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” According to the patent, the marionette would be supported by lines extending between its appendages and a fleet of drones. In the patent summary, the inventors explain that they were inspired to create the system, in part, because they wanted to create displays of Disney characters that are more faithful to how Disney portrays them.
“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.”
All three patents are dated Aug. 21. They were first reported by Stitch Kingdom, a blog that covers the world of Disney. It’s unclear if the inventions will pass muster with the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone guidelines, which are rapidly evolving as new drone technologies are developed and new uses for drones are envisioned. Last month, an Independence Day display involving drones flying into fireworks led to an FAA investigation, as Forbes reported.
Amid stiff competition from Universal Studios, Disney has been investing heavily in fancy new technologies for its theme parks unit, whose revenue has been on an upswing this year due to higher ticket prices and per-guest spending. Earlier this year, Disney unveiled its MyMagic+ attendance-management system, which uses RFID-enabled bracelets to track guests as they move about the park. So far, the system has been popular with attendees, despite vocal criticism from privacy advocates.