Forget Hot Air: Disney Parade Floats Could Soon Fly Under Drone Power

Illustration for article titled Forget Hot Air: Disney Parade Floats Could Soon Fly Under Drone Power

The Disney theme park empire is always working to stay on the cutting edge of spectacle tech, and judging by some recent patent applications, The Mouse has his eye on the skies: Disney's R&D teams want to use drones for their theme park parade floats and aerial displays.


As discovered by Marketwatch, Disney researchers filed three patent applications last week, all of them drone-powered. The first one describes a system of flying projection screens maneuvered by a team of UAVs flying along a pre-programmed route. The second would replace traditional fireworks with floating UAV light pixels, which sounds pretty cool, even if it wouldn't pack the KABOOM of explosion-based fireworks.

Illustration for article titled Forget Hot Air: Disney Parade Floats Could Soon Fly Under Drone Power

Schematic of "Aerial Display System With Floating Pixels," from Disney's patent application.

Then we get to the really mind-bending one: "Aerial display system with marionettes articulated and supported by airborne devices." Yes, giant drone-operated puppets walking, dancing, or whatever-ing down Main Street, U.S.A. "This is a significant improvement over prior flying characters, which typically were provided in the form of parade or other blimps/balloons filled with hot air or other gases and that had little and/or awkward articulation of any movable parts," the patent reads.

And the drone-powered giant marionette sure sounds awesome. I mean, just check out that schematic drawing of a drone-operated Jack Skellington:

Illustration for article titled Forget Hot Air: Disney Parade Floats Could Soon Fly Under Drone Power

Of course, filing for patents is a far cry from actually putting a technology into use. Drone technology is tricky, even for the brilliantly playful Imagineers. Even more challenging is the FAA's stance on drones, which bans pretty much any commercial drone operation until the agency has put more specific rules in place.

But for just a moment, put concerns over legality (and injury) out of your mind. Imagine watching a giant-size Pluto or Ariel or Elsa walking around Disneyland without handlers wrestling with guide-wires. That would be simply magical. [Marketwatch; Slate; Forbes]




Some of this, like the marrionette, probably could be done without drones, but with semi-boyant articulated robots, or teleoperated systems.

The rig would have a thin, carbon fiber or PVC internal skeletonwith Arms, legs, body and head as either inflatable structures or thin, lightweight carbon fiber shells, designed to hold pressurized helium.

Each joint would use a small electric motor for movement, with wrists using cable and pulley systems for hand and finger articulation.

Rotational motors would be built into the bones of the arms and legs where needed, while main balance would be managed by a small onboard computer and gyroscope system.

If used in a teleoperated system, twin cameras would be placed in the figure's eyes and high gain microphones would be placed in the ears of the figure.

Teleoperating system would be designed to both follow all body movements as well as eye and expression movements.

Light weight flexible polymers or possibly and E-ink surface could be programmed to recreate expressions as needed in accordance to character design.

Audio output would be designed to come out of the head and mouth movement would be synched to teleoperators movements and speech. (Synthesizer system could be used to convert teleoperators voice into that of the character).

The use of drones, for even a large scale marrionette, would require new low noise motors and rotors. In either system, the total weight of the rig should be able to be kept into the low tens of pounds to minimize the chance of high wind incidents, while allowing movements similar to that of characters as portrayed in movies. Internalising motor and power functions of said figure, would improve sound dampening for more realistic immersion of experience.

Optics and audio reception systems would be designed to be invisible to casual inspection.