Come take a ride on Disney's emotional roller coaster

January 31, 2017, 4:43 PM · Could a theme park ride change based on your mood? I'm not talking about your impression of the ride changing based on the way you feel. This would be the actual path and show scenes in a ride changing... based upon the expression, heart rate, or other biometric feedback of its riders.

Yes, it literally could be an emotional roller coaster.

Our colleague Richard Bilbao at the Orlando Business Journal found a Disney patent application for a ride system that would do just that.

Titled "Sensing and Managing Vehicle Behavior Based on Occupant Awareness," Disney's application describes a ride system "with a sensor mounted on an automated trackless vehicle... processing the passenger data to determine a passenger state at a particular point in time during the ride experience.... The method includes controlling the automated trackless vehicle to move off the first ride path and along the second ride path, e.g., to alter the passenger's state to enhance the ride experience."

Disney's application describes using cameras, biometric sensors, and RFID devices, along with "emotion/attention determination software" to process that passenger data to determine riders' state.

Essentially, the patent describes a passive "Choose Your Adventure" experience that reacts like an interactive attraction, without you actually having to do the interacting. Since companies try to write patents to be as expansive as possible while still being narrow enough to get the patent application approved, if you want to actively decide what elements you want in the experience, Disney's proposed system would allow you to do that, too.

Here's the flow chart, provided by Disney in its patent application:

Disney emotional roller coaster patent application

Keep in mind that patent applications represent an early step in a long process of creating a new theme park attraction. Companies file patent applications more to cover their rear ends legally than anything else. As soon as someone inside the company develops a unique technical idea or approach, management needs to file a patent application for it ASAP, lest some other designer at another company come up with the same idea and patent it first, precluding other businesses from developing the same idea.

So maybe this is something Disney has in mind for a new ride we'll soon see... or maybe not.

But that doesn't stop us from imagining how such as system could work in a variety of settings. Theme parks never want you to feel bored when visiting, which is why they've spent so much money creating attractions that offer a different experience each time you ride, from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror's multiple drop profiles to the ever-changing gameplay of Toy Story Midway Mania.

The ride system would take that concept to a new, much more advanced level, allowing it to adjust on the fly to riders' moods and schedules as well as their choices. That carries risk, of course. The system is only as good as the software that powers it, and the software is only as good as the decisions made by its developers.

My son and I share what we affectionately call a "resting b--ch face." Many people who don't know us read our expressionless faces as being angry or hostile. But that's not what we're feeling at all. If a ride system mis-reads us and send up through Candyland every time when we really want The Walking Dead, in an attempt to cheer us up, well, that's really going to make us mad.

The system also would need to accommodate the needs of riders on the autism spectrum, who would not react well to ever-changing triggers, but who could benefit greatly from a system that toned down the sensory overload when it recognized a rider who needed that. It's high risk, high reward all around here.

And of course, some riders would want to game this system by attempting to manipulate their expressions, the pulse rate or their skin temperature in an effort to get the ride to offer them a different path or story.

The easiest way for this system to work would be to employ a simple facial recognition feature, so it could recognize repeat riders and offer them a different experience than the last time they rode. But it's fun to imagine all the different ways that Disney could employ this system, and which IPs would provide the most useful match for it.

What do you think?

Replies (18)

January 31, 2017 at 4:51 PM · Too freaky man.
January 31, 2017 at 4:52 PM · And this is how Disney will teach us how to do Jedi mind tricks.
January 31, 2017 at 6:05 PM · Knee-jerk armchair Imagineering idea: Inside Out

Depending on mood, riders' "Trains of Thought" are hijacked by Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear or Disgust, and taken through a different corner of Riley's mind.

January 31, 2017 at 6:07 PM · I think is this "passive" interactive system would work best with an attraction that centers around your mood. I could easily see this working for a replacement Imagination attraction or possibly an "Inside Out" ride.
January 31, 2017 at 10:23 PM · Very crude flow chart. Doesn't tell you how technology works in the background, which I imagine will be quite complicated and require a lot of programming. I imagine a Star Trek holodeck... "Holo-Troi: I am the Goddess of Empathy. Cast off your inhibitions and embrace love, truth, joy ."
February 1, 2017 at 3:01 AM · With recent advances in machine learning, the software is no longer limited to be "only as good as the decisions made by its developers". The system could uniquely identify individual riders and learn from their previous emotional responses.
So in Robert's example if the ride system initially read his face as being angry and sent him through Candyland which made him even angrier, the system would recognise the emotional response and choose an alternative route the next time.
February 1, 2017 at 6:10 AM · Love it. And the Inside Out reference may turn out to be prophetic. That would be a perfect combination for that, and DHW will need more attractions to take the heat off of Star Wars. By the way, they need algorithms and plans to correct their awful problem with line wait times, but that is another story.
February 1, 2017 at 6:25 AM · YES, DOUGLAS, YES!
Journey Into the Imagination, meet your replacement! Now what should replace Ellen's Energy Adventure? (Please not GotG, please not GotG, please not GotG...)
February 1, 2017 at 8:24 AM · The underlying technology here actually isn't very new. Casinos have been using systems just like this for years to determine whether a player's big win was legitimate or if cheating was involved. Most people don't even realize that they are being scanned.

Interesting concept for a theme park attraction. It certainly raises potential questions as Robert points out but there's great potential as well.

February 1, 2017 at 8:56 AM · Nintendo dabbled with the idea to include a version of the heart rate finger clip to their console but never did.
MicroSoft promised an emotio reading Kinect and a game was in developement but never saw the light of day:
So technicaly I'm sure it one day will be possible but for now, not so much.
Also I don't want experiences tailored completely for me. I narrows your horizon. I don't want to make my emotions or state of mind leading, I want to be led by stunning rides and story telling, that will have my face light up.
February 1, 2017 at 9:53 AM · SWEEEEEET EMOOOOOSHUN!
February 1, 2017 at 10:16 AM · So what if one rider is bored and another is scared?
February 1, 2017 at 12:20 PM · Spock reaction: "fascinating, Captain".
February 1, 2017 at 12:38 PM · @douglashindley My mind went straight to Inside Out too.
February 1, 2017 at 12:57 PM · As to's insightful comment, I just realized that the perfect IP for this might be Terminator. Let's help the machine learn... and make Skynet happen!


February 1, 2017 at 3:06 PM · You can't feed anger. You relax it. You might get a more upbeat scenes. While a happy person will want more happy scenes. So if angry and happy get the same scenes, why even bother to read their emotions? It would hazard a guess that they'll change the scene when their perceive a change in emotion rather than the emotion itself.
February 1, 2017 at 9:31 PM · As others have said, Inside Out seems like a natural fit for this type of technology. However, I'm going to suggest the opposite of what people are emotion appears, and the scenes attempt to intensify that emotion before another takes control. For example, if Fear is the one in charge, riders will proceed to increasingly scary scenes until a majority have registered a sufficient fear level (or they reach the last scene), then someone else will take them on a separate path. For guest flow purposes, each ride would have the same number of scenes, so if you go further on one path you might not get to see as much of others.

What about frequent riders? Well, Magic Bands could be used to track which sequences guests have experienced, and the system could be set up to avoid returning to scenes a majority have already seen. In the above example, if guests make it to the third Fear scene before turning away, the next time they ride they could either start there or start at scene four when Fear is in charge instead of starting that path over at the beginning.

February 3, 2017 at 6:09 AM · And you were worried about Magic Bands Robert ;)

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