The metaverse may be headed to a Disney theme park near you.
Disney received approval for a “virtual-world simulator” patent shortly before the new year, according to a recently surfaced filing with the U.S. Patent Office. The technology would be used to project 3-D images on real-world objects to create interactive guest experiences throughout its parks without the need for a wearable headset or mobile device. If you’re unfamiliar, we call that kind of bridge between the physical world and the virtual one the metaverse, a.k.a. Silicon Valley’s latest buzzword.
Disney already employs augmented reality technology for large-scale entertainment at its theme parks, such as using projection mapping to bring its cast of characters to life on storefronts, waterfalls, and other real-world structures. But this new technology would have a significantly different scale: It would track individual park visitors to personalize the projections they see on nearby objects and walls. For example, a family walking by a storefront could see Mickey Mouse greet them as they pass.
If the House of Mouse does incorporate the metaverse into its parks, it likely won’t happen anytime soon. Disney officials told the Los Angeles Times that the company has no immediate plans to use the virtual-world simulator technology outlined in its patent.
“We are excited about the possibilities related to this type of technology,” a Disney spokesperson told the outlet, adding that “there are no current plans to introduce this technology into an upcoming experience.” The spokesperson also emphasized that Disney “files hundreds of patents each year as we explore developing technologies.”
However, as Insider points out, incorporating the metaverse into its theme parks would certainly track with Disney’s ambitious goal to tell stories through a “three-dimensional canvas.” CEO Bob Chapek detailed this vision during Disney’s fourth-quarter earnings call:
“Our efforts to date are merely a prologue to a time when we’ll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing for storytelling without boundaries in our own Disney metaverse,” Chapek said.
It’s worth noting that corporations as big as Disney have a history of securing patents just to keep competitors from getting their first, which may very well be the case here.
“It’s possible that they may never use it, but my sense is this is very much something they are going to commercialize,” said Ed Khalili, a patent attorney with Founders Legal, in an interview with the LA Times.