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New Technology Allows Disney to ID Guests ONLY By the Shoes They Wear at Disney World

cinderella trying on a slipper
Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Disney has been hard at work developing a revolutionary kind of technology that will allow the company to identify guests by what they have on their feet when they visit Disney World and Disneyland.

disneyland and disney world castles

Credit: Becky Burkett

Disney IS the Technology

Since its inception more than 100 years ago, The Walt Disney Company has been a driving force in the entertainment industry, setting the standard for the ways in which feature-length animated films and live-action movies are made and developing and implementing the technology necessary for creating one-of-a-kind and never-before-seen theme park experiences at Disney Parks in the United States and around the world.

disney's tron lightcycle run

Spotlight on technology at TRON: Lightcycle/Run at Magic Kingdom/Credit: Disney Parks

Disney is known for its creative approaches to each of its offerings, whether at the box office or its many theme park resorts–and for good reason: Disney doesn’t postpone projects until the technological advancements make the magic possible. Instead, the company develops the necessary technology to breathe life into its films, stories, rides, attractions, and other experiences.

Imagineering, Pixar, and ILM

Three of Disney’s entities immediately come to mind when the topic of technological advancements is being discussed at the Mouse House: Walt Disney Imagineering, Pixar Animation Studios, and Industrial Light & Magic.

walt disney imagineering logo

Credit: WDI/Canva

Walt Disney Imagineering, formerly known as WED Enterprises, is a brilliant group of talented individuals at The Walt Disney Company whose efforts connect the logistics of engineering and mechanics with the creative processes of the imagination to bring about the development of exciting Disney Parks attractions that immerse guests in storytelling with state-of-the-art, cutting-edge ride technology, blurring the line between what is real and what is imagined.

seven dwarfs mine train roller coaster magic kingdom rope drop

Variable-speed ride technology is key at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction at Magic Kingdom/Credit: Disney Parks

Since the group was first formed by visionary genius Walt Disney in 1952, Imagineers have been the true magic makers at Disney’s theme park resorts around the globe, each playing a vital role in the intellectual and creative processes that go into the development of one-of-a-kind experiences to which only Disney’s guests are privy.

And when Pixar Animation Studios began the work of creating films that would feature 100% computer animation, the technology Pixar’s animators needed to create those films didn’t exist.

pixar logo and characters

Credit: Pixar Animation Studios/Canva

Pixar was responsible for the development of RenderMan, a photorealistic 3D rendering software used in the production of the studio’s films, which it debuted in 1988, along with Pixar’s proprietary animation system, known externally as Marionette but internally referred to as Menv.

In 2012, Marionette was renamed with the debut of Brave, and Pixar now calls the animation system Presto.

pixar's brave

Credit: Pixar Animation Studios

Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) has made the unbelievable believable for moviegoers since 1975. From the Star Wars trilogy films to Paramount’s Transformers films to Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) and more, ILM has been the source of the magic behind countless film sequences that include “starfighters careening through space, dinosaurs rampaging through dense forests, and superheroes defending the world against fearsome villains.”

ILM continues to pave new paths with groundbreaking visual effects across film, television, theme park attractions, Immersive Cinema, and streaming.

marvel avengers special effects industrial light and magic

Credit: ILM/Marvel

So Much Technology, So Many Patents

Much of the technology that Disney and its subsidiaries have created is visible to moviegoers and experienced by theme park guests. But the company has also developed technology that is either not visible to the consumer or hidden in plain sight so that it isn’t noticed.

Rise of the Resistance

Rise of the Resistance attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Credit: Disney Parks

Each time Disney creates new technology or new approaches in its many films, attractions, and other projects, the company protects itself by securing patents from the United States Patent Office and other countries, as necessary.

Over the years, Disney has secured thousands of patents, and as of October 2023, The Walt Disney Company held 6,045 patents belonging to more than 3,300 unique patent families in its global portfolio. More than 3,900 of Disney’s patents have been filed in the U.S., and of the company’s more than 6,000 patents, more than 4,100 are active.

Disney Thinks of Guests as a Pair of Shoes

One of Disney’s recently secured patents is for an intriguing–and almost alarming–piece of innovative technology.

U.S. Patent No. 9,393,697 is one of Disney’s more than 6,000 patents. It was applied for in April 2015, and the patent was granted to Disney on July 19, 2016. Titled “The System and Method Using Foot Recognition to Create a Customized Guest Experience,” the patent is for technology developed by Disney inventors Paul Beardsley and Aparna Taneja.

mary poppins disney shoe patent

“Mary Poppins” (1964)/Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

As the title suggests, the technology allows the foot recognition of guests. More simply explained, it allows Disney to identify guests at Disney Parks based on their footwear. So, how does it work?

How Does It Work?

When a guest first enters a Disney theme park, cameras and sensors begin to capture images of the person’s shoes. The technology allows for visual features of the shoes to be captured, including the color scheme of the shoes, the brand, and the model. There are also sensors in the ground that capture the size of the guest’s shoes, as well as the tread design of the shoes, which serves to give Disney additional information about the shoes.

disney shoe recognition patent

Credit: Disney/PatentYogi

Once the information is captured about a guest’s footwear, the identification system will begin to associate specific personal details about the guest, including the guest’s name, interests, and other information that distinguishes that particular guest from others in the parks with characteristics of the guest’s shoes.

As the guest makes his way throughout the theme park, enjoying attractions, entertainment, rides, and food, sensors in the ground capture images of his or her shoes, allowing Disney to easily recognize the guest. And because the guest’s interests are also associated with the shoes, Disney says the company can create a more customized, personalized experience for the guest.

The premise is a bit reminiscent of the technology behind the signs inside the it’s a small world attraction that once featured personalized farewell messages as the ride came to an end, using guests’ individual names.

its a small world magic kingdom

Farewell messages at “it’s a small world”/Credit: Becky Burkett

According to Patent Yogi, “By knowing what the interests of the person are, a customized experience may then be provided [by Disney’s technology], like presenting a particular media content.”

In short, Disney’s shoe recognition technology will allow Disney to follow a guest throughout the theme park, identify him or her by a shoe, and ensure that he or she is met with a personalized, customized Disney Parks experience, regardless of his or her location in the parks.

magic kingdom partners statue

Credit: Becky Burkett/Canva

An Unobtrusive Way of Doing Things

One potentially significant perk to Disney’s shoe recognition technology is that it offers an unobtrusive way of identifying guests in the theme parks, as compared to other methods, including fingerprint recognition and retinal identification.

cinderella trying on a slipper

Credit: Walt Disney Animation

The patented technology is in keeping with Disney’s history and reputation for offering legendary, world-class, second-to-none guest service, and it could easily allow cast members to make a magical experience in the parks even more magical and personalized.

It’s not clear at this time whether the technology has already been implemented at any of Disney’s theme park resorts, but if The Walt Disney Company intends to proceed with the new recognition program, the results will no doubt bring about an even more customized and immersive experience for guests of all ages.

Additional patent information and diagrams can be found here.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

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