Universal is blowing it up with its latest patent application

March 22, 2018, 2:56 PM · It's time for every armchair theme park designer's favorite Rorschach Test game: "What's in the patent application?"

Today's challenge is to figure out what Universal Creative really wants to do with the technology is describes in its latest published patent application: Systems and methods for incorporating pneumatic robotic systems into amusement park attractions.

The TL;DR is a description of tech to blow up inflatables for use in theme parks, from the big balloons in the Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's to obstacles that could inflate to pop in an a dark ride vehicle's path. (Hold that thought for a moment.)

Obviously, Macy's has been blowing up balloons for its Thanksgiving Day parades for decades, so that's nothing new. But Universal's patent application describes using pneumatic techniques to move features on a big balloon, such as its eyebrows or other animate parts of a character. The application also scales down the tech for use in smaller inflatables, such as souvenir balloons. Imagine using a cell phone to make your balloon move and do stuff. It's in the application.

But the really interesting stuff moves away from stand-alone inflatables into components of a theme park walk-through attraction or ride. The application describes islands that could inflate to pop up in a water ride or water park feature. And it talks about using inflatable obstacles in dry attractions, too, such as an amped-up playground-style obstacle course or in an actual dark ride.

Check this out: "objects described may be inflated during the course of a ride or an exhibit to create obstacles for the ride or user during the user experience. In the same way, the inflatable objects may deflate, such that obstacles are removed during the course of a ride or exhibit. The inflatable objects may also inflate and deflate to different pressure levels to form an object having a hard surface to one having varying degrees of a soft or amorphous surface."

Hmmm... what kind of ride that Universal has announced it is working on could that experience possibly describe? If your brain is working the same way mine is, you probably guessed Mario Kart. At least, I did.

But who knows? That's the best park of theme parks writing patent applications as broadly as possible, to CYA for protecting any potential future use. What do you see in Universal patent application?

Replies (6)

March 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM ·

They already displayed this before with the Dragon Quest Dragon Inflatable AA that had movement etc.

March 22, 2018 at 8:16 PM ·

Mario and other video games...
I can also see a transformation of Hulk - keeping their own universe of Marvel things going...

March 23, 2018 at 4:58 AM ·

I think this would be perfect in a mario kart ride, where you could ride into a question block-shaped balloon. It deflates as soon as you touch it, then re-inflates in a few seconds for another racer.

March 23, 2018 at 7:01 AM ·

I was hoping for Jaws 3.0 but that does sound Mario Kartish

March 23, 2018 at 8:42 AM ·

It doesn't sound like a serious attraction. Is inflatables the new animatronic? I bought some inflatables for Christmas. They barely last a season or two. They are loud and expensive. They will constantly have to replaced for an attraction. Not worth the expense or hassle. Something solid state might be a better option for attractions.

March 23, 2018 at 10:07 AM ·

It's an interesting patent -- but kind of seems like a cop-out on basic Animatronics (as in a cheaper and less-impressive way to do it).

Still, it COULD work well in practice. I'll withhold my judgement until I see what they do with it.

But the patent seems overly broad, as well. I mean, how is what they describe different from the old Ursula float that didn't last in Disneyland's original version of Fantasmic!? How long will Universal be willing to patch the inflatables (in a way that is "good show"), and still put up with them? I'm reminded of the old "collapsing ceiling" at Disneyland's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye" -- not an inflatable, but still an effect upon which Disneyland gave up on when it broke (and don't even get me started on Disco Yeti, though I will grant that it was MUCH more impressive, when it worked, than an inflating-and-then-deflating effect is in my mind).

All in all, I hope Universal is doing something new that I haven't seen before. Having worked for both Disney and Universal, and preferring my time with Disney (not only did Universal Studios Hollywood pay me less for the same job, but Disneyland was much more fun), I truly do hope that Universal brings innovation to the theme park world.

There is DEFINITELY room in SoCal for both parks (plus Knott's and Six Flags). They all mostly serve a different overall demographic. I'm just happy to see innovation in theme park concepts.

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