NextGen takes its next step at Walt Disney World this week

April 30, 2012, 10:06 AM · NextGen takes its next step this week at the Walt Disney World Resort, as Imagineers and attractions workers begin testing the next generation ride reservation system at the Disney World theme parks.

Fastpasses and resort cards
All these would merge as a single card or wristband, under NextGen

Guests who have been invited in advance will be testing new "Fastpass" cards with embedded RFID chips. Participants will have pre-scheduled Fastpass return times at several attractions, and will use the RFID cards to check in at those attractions during their one-hour return time windows.

Disney's ultimate goal here is to use RFID technology to enable a single card or wristband to do everything for a guest - to be a hotel room card, theme park admission ticket, charge card, Photo Pass card, Fastpass ticket, and Priority Seating reservation card. Disney doesn't need RFID to do all of those things - indeed, current resort cards can do fulfill many of those functions. But Disney also wants its NextGen media to be able to trigger interactive animation at selected locations around the resort. Eventually, your card or wristband will be the ticket to an individual narrative experience that follows you around your vacation - think of a much more robust "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom"-type experience that's overlaid on top of whatever else you choose to do at the resort. It doesn't have to be a game, like Sorcerers. It could be any type of narrative experience you'd want to add to your vacation. As I wrote two weeks ago, theme park lands in NextGen will no longer just be settings for attractions, but become platforms for them.

Disney's introducing RFID room cards this month at the Art of Animation hotel. This week's test begins the process of bringing the Fastpass system into the fold. And Disney's quietly begun work to create interactive animations in the Magic Kingdom that can be triggered by RFID-enabled media. Eventually, Disney will put the various pieces together, and we'll have our NextGen experience in the Walt Disney World theme parks.

The challenge, beyond simply getting the tech to work, is load balancing guest capacity across the parks. Ideally, NextGen would allow Disney to do a better job of spreading crowds throughout the park, as it would give Disney the capability of more actively managing where guests go, and when.

I'm reminded of how One More Disney Day went at Disneyland on Feb. 29, before California Adventure closed for the day at 8 pm and the after-work crowd swarmed the resort. Since the park was filled that day with experienced Disney fans, many of whom were trying to do everything in the park in that one day, the crowds dispersed nicely, spreading throughout the park and keeping wait times next to zero on most attractions, even though tens of thousands of people were in the park. NextGen could allow a next generation ride reservation system to better distribute guests throughout the park, the way that the daytime Disneyland fans did on their own during daylight hours on Feb. 29.

The flip side of all this is the capacity problems inherent in creating individual interactive experiences throughout the parks. Consider the wait time we're already seeing at some Sorcerers portals. Imagine if every Disney hotel guest has a NextGen wristband, and they all were trying to trigger little animations and go on individual quests around the parks. The standby lines at Soarin' might seem quick by comparison.

So a huge part of the NextGen testing won't just be making sure that the cards let you on the ride or trigger an animation when you tap them at the check-in station. It will be developing the mathematical models to determine how many pre-determined ride reservations the "average" guest should get in one day. And how many individual interactive experiences Disney can support for each guest each day, without making the wait times for those experiences intolerable.

That's a lot of math.

Until then, if you see a component of NextGen being installed or tested "in the wild," let us know in the comments, or on the discussion board.

Replies (17)

April 30, 2012 at 10:31 AM · I'm curious to see how the Reservation system would work. Considering how confused some visitors are about Fastpass, it seems like it might benefit frequent guests who understand the system.

On the other hand, I have little interest in games like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom that take up funds for new attractions. Unlike Universal, it seems like Disney is spending a lot of resources on "experiences" in place of new rides. There are a few exceptions (Cars Land, Fantasyland expansion), but those don't make up for a lot of attractions that need TLC.

April 30, 2012 at 10:54 AM · This will be interesting. When (or if, for that matter) this comes out to the public, I'd love to try it!
April 30, 2012 at 11:01 AM · Honestly I think it is a pretty cool concept that if properly operated will ensure guests will have the best possible experience without spending 50% of their vacations in line.

On the negative side, I like to visit the parks and do things the way I want on my own pace. I live in Orlando, so the next gen pass won't probably mean as much to me as others because we go to the parks so often that if we are faced with a long line we just walk away to a different part of the park, period.

April 30, 2012 at 12:03 PM · RFID wristbands as park tickets, charge cards, and room keys? Great Wolf Lodge already invented this, and the system they have is very convenient. I do have one question, though. What about passholders? I'm sure they're not required to wear their wristband for an entire year. ;)
April 30, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Sounds like they could really use your great math mind, Robert- perhaps you should offer your services... :)
April 30, 2012 at 1:45 PM · "But Disney also wants its NextGen media to be able to trigger interactive animation at selected locations around the resort."

Thinking about this reminds me of the mall scene from "Minority Report".

April 30, 2012 at 1:56 PM · Well, you need to bring your current AP card to get into the park, so if cards are replaced by wristband (and I don't know that they will be, but that's something that's been kicked around, from what I've heard), then that'd be the way you get past the front gate anyway.

FWIW, my current (non-RFID) Disneyland AP also serves as my Photo Pass card. Don't know if that's the case for WDW APs. Any folks in Florida have an answer for that?

April 30, 2012 at 2:29 PM · Sounds like the future of a day in the park is going to get very scheduled.
April 30, 2012 at 5:47 PM · I'm curious to see what would happen if you had two different families walk up to something at the same time. Would it cause the system to shutdown during the special interactive part?

How would this scheduling work with park hopping? We enjoy being able to leave a park (if we finished quickly or too large of a crowd present)and spend the rest of the day at another. Sometimes we have been known to visit three parks a day (for either dining, extra magic hours, rides, or needed merchandise). I wonder if this would hurt those of us who want to go wherever and whenever we wish.

April 30, 2012 at 7:56 PM · I don't care much for a wristband. Neither do I care for the lanyards that people wear. Am I at work? Am I 2 years old? Why am I being tracked? It is so unnerving. I think it will have an opposite effect. How about avoiding all that hassle? I suppose Disney is trying to make things easier for people, but I have my doubts. I don't think they solved the problem of ride capacity. The queues will be overloaded. People will not be served. You're just a number. What's missing is the hidden bar scan tattoo at the back of your neck.
May 2, 2012 at 5:01 PM · Amanda,

Triggering something requires tapping (or at least getting somewhat close to) a receiver unit, so whoever taps the unit gets the animation, from what I understand. The units can't read cards or wristbands of people just walking by, unless they're within some reasonable distance (*what Disney's configured for, I don't know).

But yeah, that means the second (and third and fourth) parties will need to queue and wait for those ahead to tap their cards or wristbands to activate the station.

I think that this technology also will mean slower entry to xPass/NextGen-Fastpass stations, too. Right now, cast members can just wave people by with a glance at the FP cards. Tapping in takes a fraction of a second more, but those fractions of a second add up. I suspect that potential issue will be one that Imagineering will be watching during this test, as well.

May 1, 2012 at 1:18 AM · This is my reaction to these developments at the World.

I don't and have never stayed onsite at Disney.
And judging by the way this seems to be going - they clearly don't want me there in that case.

My hard earned money is just as good as those who choose to stay onsite, and yet it seems I could have to wait longer, stay hungry longer and live to the Disney regime when I am on holiday.

When there, I have paid a lot of money to visit to chill, do what I want when I want and actually have a vacation. If I wanted boot camp I would book into one.

I love the Disney parks dont get me wrong, but I dont wish to pay vast sums for my entry to then find due to 'next-gen' I can only get on 3 rides as I failed to stay onsite and book the time I want to ride Space Mountain a year ago.

Do Disney actually consider the millions of people who visit central Florida and choose not to stay on property??

Rant over - happy to be proved wrong :-))

May 1, 2012 at 6:33 AM · Whatever they decide I hope it isn't the non-removable wristband option. We recently stayed at an hotel on Tenerife where they asked us to wear plastic ID wristbands at all times or risk being refused entry to the restaurant. We refused. There was no way that we were going to spend our vacation in high temperatures, on beaches, travelling and visiting other restaurants and bars, with blue plastic bands on our wrists. They're obtrusive and uncomfortable and presume that the wearer is incapable of being responsible or sensible enough to carry any other form of ID.
For special events I have no problem. It's worn for the duration of the event and then removed. Where I draw the line is being forced to wear something like that wherever I may be for 3 weeks like some tagged prisoner or an escapee from the nearest hospital or asylum.
May 1, 2012 at 8:58 AM · I think people are overestimating the negatives, if they're any. Xpass for the most part, will be like Extra Magic Hours that have little impact on non-resort guest. The technology to track people is already somewhat in use. If you stay at a hotel, they know when you use that card in the room or to buy things. They know when you get a Fastpass or use Photopass, they know...

We don't know that it will be wristbands.

Xpass is a little like a digital ticket book. The passes people sign up for ahead of time mostly consist of what some call "A Ticket" experience. E ticket passes will be fewer had. That said, what passes are handed out ahead of time are subtracted from Fastpass, as if they were there to get the passes. It forces people to do other things than E-ticket rides while just allowing them to skip the actual process of going to the machines.

As for the interactive stuff, we will just have to see.

I'm fairly neutral in the whole thing. I don't think we should panic until all of the info has been released, which will long be after many many phases of testing.

May 1, 2012 at 11:24 AM · Ah, thank you Robert. I was thinking more along the lines of a sensor detecting when people walked up. Hmm. This will definitely be something to see. I'm not sure if I want to wait in line for it yet, but I also didn't think we would enjoy the Kimpossible at Epcot. My boys thought it was one of the greatest things ever. I was impressed, but not to the point of wanting to wait in line for it. This will be something though that will keep people talking and watching what Disney will do in the future. The talk will lead to curiosity which will then lead to more people wanting to visit the parks. In the end, more money and hopefully more rides and improvements for the rest of us.
May 2, 2012 at 4:23 PM · Robert is incorrect when he says that RFID requires tapping or you being in close proximity to a receiver unit. The latter is sort of true, but RFID (Radio-Frequency-IDentification) absolutely can be read by someone who is just walking by and depending on the scanner it can be read at some distance and speed as well.

The proximity requirements for scanners usually depends on the accuracy requirements.

Here are some great examples of RFID technology in use.

Toll Road payment devices. Those window mounted devices on your car are scanned by an overhead scanner, while you're traveling at high-speed.

RFID technology is also already used by many ski resorts, and yes skiing by the scanner alone will open a turnstyle gate or an overhead scanner will record an event, like boarding a lift. Vail Resorts uses the technology to track the number of lift rides their season passholders take, but they only use the technology at the entry point lifts for purposes of tracking all guests and ensuring they have a proper lift ticket.

Another great example of RFID in use today is the anti-theft detection systems used by most retail stores. Walk between the scanners with an active RFID tag on some merchandise and the alarm will go off.

RFID is also used by many product distribution warehouses too.

There are a variety of different scanners with all sorts of different levels of sensitivity. Some require you to go between gates or wands. Others like key fob scanners for elevator or door access require you to get very close to the pad or tap it. Some others can be positioned above walkways. Other scanners are hand held and just need to be waved near the RFID chips location.

RFID cards also do not need to be visible to scan. They can be scanned through your clothes, purse or wallet. The single biggest interference with RFID technology is cell phones or other electronic gadgets. If you place your RFID pass next to your cell phone in most cases it will render it useless.

Overall, the technology is much faster than bar code or magnetic swipe scanning and much more flexible.

Now Disney can employ this technology in all sorts of different ways and the interaction may not occur with every guest. In a queue, for example, the scanner may detect all RFIDs present, but select to put only one guest on stage. However, it may enable interaction with all.

In terms of Fast Pass guests may pass between scanners for accuracy and speed, each one holding their own RFID card.

For on ride photos, an overhead scanner on Splash Mountain for example could easily scan all guest cards in a boat and then assign those IDs to photos taken before or after that point or multiple times during the ride. The same is true for activating video cameras through the park or maybe an interactive attractions. Take Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland for example. When you look into a display case a camera inside could snap a photo of you from the inside at the same moment one of the figurines speaks your name.

May 2, 2012 at 5:08 PM · I explained this the way that it was explained to me that Disney would implement the tech. Part of their concern in testing is ensuring that activations happen when and how they're intended, especially when Disney gets to the point of having RFID tags activate animation in the park.

At this stage, you'll have to show the CM that you are the one activating the RFID admission to a ride. And that means tapping or getting close enough to activate a unit. But, yes, there's huge potential for more passive (on the guest's part) use and tracking under this technology.

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