Disney is working to transform its theme parks from a physical experience into a "theme park metaverse," the chief technical officer of the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products segment said today at the IAAPA Expo Virtual Education Conference.
"It's a shared magical world created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space," Tilak Mandadi, Executive Vice President, Digital and Chief Technology Officer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said.
"Seriously, what does that mean?" Mandadi asked. "Well, it all starts with having a connected part — a part where guests can truly interact with their physical surroundings using connected devices, wearables phones and other interactive digital access points. Then we seamlessly bring together the physical and the digital elements in the experience to create what I call converged experiences by using technologies like computer vision, natural language understanding augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and IOT.
"Our experience started a long time ago as classic linear storytelling. Then we transition to interactive storytelling. Then we went beyond that to immersive storytelling. And we are well on our way to personalized, and social storytelling."
"The metaverse experience will be designed right from the get go to be personalized. How do we do that? Well, that's where data comes into play. While personalized, these experiences are also social. You are part of a community, enjoying these experiences all together — sometimes collaboratively, sometimes competitively — but always with joy and fun.
"So, with the digital data and physical coming together organically with the story, we now have physical and digital convergence experiences that are personalized and social, creating that theme park metaverse. And because of the digital dimension of these metaverse experiences, they can be updated frequently, and they stay fresh and relevant. While I can't shed a whole lot of details on the work underway, these type of experiences are a critical focus for us, and we are ideating through many offers. Some will come to fruition, some will not. But we expect them to be core to the guest experience in the years to come.
"This has led us to explore new areas like, for example, artificial intelligence-driven virtual characters that could have a personalized interaction with a guest. Another experience guests love are the animal interactions found at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. Although it is still a pilot program — not yet available to guests — the Windows to the Wild program that we are working on brings these interactions to fans through augmented reality."
Mandadi also cited the Play Disney Parks app and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge as recent examples of the theme park metaverse that Disney has deployed already, noting that the Rise of the Resistance attraction alone has 15,000 IOT [Internet of things] sensors to enable its functionality. But the idea is to create functional platforms that allow Disney Parks to extend its market reach before its resorts.
"While the converged physical and digital worlds remain our primary focus, this magical experience is no longer completely limited to what we call 'inside the berm,'" Mandadi said. "Extending the magic of Disney parks to home is now a real, exciting possibility. Imagine a day where guests can explore with pirates, train with heroes, dance with royalty and visit a galaxy far, far away without ever leaving their home."
The IAAPA Expo Virtual Education Conference this year replaced the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando, which was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. Earlier today, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro shared an update on new Disney theme park attractions, including a video first look at the new Guardians of the Galaxy "omnicoaster" carriages in action.
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