An interesting new patent application from Disney seeks to address one of the ongoing challenges facing theme park operations - people who need extra time getting on and off rides.
If you've been on Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth, or any other Omnimover attraction, you likely have experienced a slow-down or stoppage while riding. That's because the ride vehicles on these attractions form a continuous chain. If someone at the load or unload station needs extra time, the entire chain must slow or stop to provide that.
Slow loads and unloads affect other rides, as well, causing backups or even cascade stops that shut the attraction. If you are new to theme park operations, see my explanation of those in Theme park cast member stories: Why you have to be 40 inches tall to ride Disney's Big Thunder Mountain.
Disneyland addressed this issue on its Space Mountain, for example, by installing a track switch that allows a coaster train to be pulled from the main track onto a side station where a party that needs extra time to get in or out of the vehicle can take all the time they need without holding up the main line. That solution requires creating or assigning extra space in the station to accommodate the pull-out.
Disney's patent application eliminates that need by marrying the concept of a track switch with a roundtable loading station. You might have seen those stations on Walt Disney World's PeopleMover or the aforementioned Spaceship Earth. At the Disneyland Resort, Grizzly River Run uses a roundtable for loading and unloading, to cite another example.
Currently, if a party on one of those attractions needs extra time, the solution is to slow or stop the rotating platform - just as operators would do on an Omnimover ride. But Disney's patent application suggests an alternative - track switches at the points where the ride vehicles enter and exit the roundtable.
If a party getting on the ride needs extra time, the track switch moves to allow their ride vehicle to take another turn on the roundtable, rather than entering the ride. This way, the party can take all the time they need by continuing to circle the roundtable until they are seated and ready. The same applies at unload. The ride vehicle can keep circulating on the roundtable until the party departs. The roundtable need not slow or stop, and other ride vehicles can come on to and depart from the roundtable as usual.
Ride operators would need to anticipate which parties will need extra time so that they can assign their ride vehicle to stay on the turntable rather than deploying onto the main ride track or flume. So the concept is not completely foolproof. But it would give ride ops a valuable new tool to accommodate guests with extra needs while not substantially slowing the ride, limiting capacity, and inconveniencing other guests.
You can read the complete patent application at: Station with infinite ingress and egress times for use in transportation systems.
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