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Disney drone patent suggests drones could be used in live shows

One of Disney’s latest patents involves drones, indicating that the entertainment giant has plans to incorporate flying robots into their live performances. The Disney drone patent, filed this summer, is officially titled “Aerial Show System Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Energy To Animate Creative Show Element,” showing off a system where drones are an active part of live shows.

The patent is unique in that it marries drones with objects — and people — on the ground, rather than have drones appear as an obscure robot, standing out on its own.

Disney drone patent
A drawing from the latest Disney drone patent

“The system includes distributed show systems and human actors as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, which that are tracked, monitored and controlled to provide dynamic show participation with the distributed show system and human actors,” according to the Disney drone patent text.

The Disney drone patent goes so far as to call out how most other drones used for entertainment are “disconnected from the live performance cadence of the rest of the production such as performances by human actors.”

Disney’s patent indicates their drones would be more responsive to the environment, rather than reliant on a pre-programmed flight plan. That means the drone won’t “go” until, say, an actor finishes responding to their cue. The patent is led by Pehr Hovey, a R&D Imagineer Senior and Creative Systems Engineer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “Imagineer” is the term Disney gives to its employees who work in its creative engine to design and build products for its theme parks, resorts, attractions, and cruise ships worldwide.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a Disney drone patent. The earliest on record dates all the way back to 2014, when Disney applied for three UAV-related patents, indicating that drones could hold a marionette or projection screens for nighttime entertainment.

jack skellington drone patent drawing
A sketch from the 2014 Disney drone patent

And Disney isn’t alone in incorporating drones into its theme parks. Universal Studios Hollywood partnered with the Intel drone light show team in the summer of 2019 to put on a “Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle” show. The nighttime show featured a variety of special effects to create the illusion of Dementors and Death Eaters casting images on Hogwarts castle, ending with a massive Patronus charm over the night sky. Alas That “Patronus” was made possible not by magic, but by drones.

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