On Disney Parks, Data Science, Drones and Wearables

As the parent of a toddler, I have no choice but to pay attention to Disney and its myriad of products and services.

Case in point, this Summer we took our daughter to Disneyland for the first time, which was a whole thing. Pause to h/t Disneyland expert, Friend of the ‘Lab and colleague Kathy for all her park and travel protips.

Being who I am, I found myself wandering around Disneyland and California Adventure thinking about how many hardcore analytics geeks they must employ to come up with systems like FASTPASS.

For the unfamiliar, FASTPASS is a system that allows you to skip some, if not all, of the line-standing for the most popular attractions in the parks. Although it’s difficult to explain in words, the system is rather simple once you get your first pass.

Being in the park, you can feel all the thought and craft that has gone into the experience. Disney is a $45 billion company, and it’s no surprise their R&D is cutting edge. But what makes it so successful?

Attendees of Disney parks are in a very similar to employees of an enterprise in that they will gladly opt-in to new technologies because the value they receive in return is clear and quantifiable.

Put into examples, if Google Glass helps me do my job more effectively, I’ll wear them. If I receive discounted benefits for wearing a fitness tracker, I’ll do it.

If a MagicBand allows me to leave my wallet in my room, not worry about losing the room keycards, and use FastPass+, I’ll wear it, even though it will allow Disney World to track my location at a very fine-grained level. Who cares? FastPass+ is worth it, right?

Odd branding note, the official ways to write these two terms are indeed FASTPASS and FastPass+, according to Disney’s web site.

If you’re interested in reading more about the MagicBand, what’s inside and Disney uses it at Disney World, check out Welcome to Dataland. Imagine all the data science that goes into creating and iterating on these enormous data sets; this is embiggened Big Data when you consider Disney parks occupied the top eight spots in the 2012 Theme Park Index, comprising well over 100 million visits.

It boggles my mind, although for someone like Bill, it would be Christmas every day.

The post also recounts Walt Disney’s futurist vision, which seems to drive their R&D today. It also encompasses the my point nicely:

Rather, because Disney’s theme parks don’t have the same relationship to reality that Google and Costco and the NSA do. They are hybrids of fantasy and reality.

I read Welcome to Dataland only because I’d just been to Disneyland myself. Then came news that Disney had filed severals patents concerning the use of drones for its park shows, one for floating pixels, one for flying projection screens, one for transporting characters, h/t Business Insider.

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We’ve been experimenting (ahem, playing) with quadcopters, and it struck me that Ultan (@ultan) had sent me a Disney video about customized wearables. This one:

That was posted in August 2012.

So beyond casual interest as the father of a daughter who loves Disney Princesses, suddenly it’s obvious that I need to watch Disney much more carefully to see how they’re adopting emerging technologies.

Oh and become a willing data point in their data set.

Find the comments.




  1. @joel: Wow, bet there are some interesting stories from those times. I’m also reminded of the forgettable (and awful) Beverly Hill Cop III.

  2. Great post.

    Another great example of design and the use of data is the Las Vegas strip, where everything is setup to part you from your money. By now, pretty much everyone knows about the ‘easy to find your way in, hard to find your way out’ floor layouts, or ‘the no clocks or windows’ decor so you lose your sense of time, etc. But for obvious reasons, casinos leverage data mining and surveillance to maximize profit…


  3. Good post. Thanks for the shout-out. Yes, I love those Glow ears. Pretty much it’s got it all going on there – contextual experience, location-enabled, communication with others, and so on. I use the example in outreach to kids and er, older people (https://blogs.oracle.com/usableapps/entry/what_mickey_mouse_teaches_us).

    However, I draw the line at those ears. Necomimi’s are much more stylish… there’s a lesson there…. fashtechionistas…


  4. @Ultan: That’s the Disney hook though, the Glow ears offer value that (presumably) outweighs the fashion angle.

    You might not be the best case study though.

    Glad you wrote up the fashion and tech bit, was waiting for that, didn’t want to steal your thunder.

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