The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) is a multinational mass media corporation headquartered in Burbank, CA, and is one of the few companies in the world that could be considered beloved by its customers. Disney has thrived for decades on offering family friendly experiences at its many amusement parks and in movie theaters across the globe. So far, 2014 has been a banner year for the company thanks in large part to box office successes from films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America 2 and Frozen; a resulting rise in dividends extending from this success is seen as a sign of increased corporate strength for Disney. In 2015, Disney’s movie business is expected to reap even more from what are expected to be great returns from the next movie installments of The Avengers and Star Wars, both of which are coming out next year. Disney is also heavily into the development of video games, which we’ll discuss in more detail below, as is evidenced by the recent announcement of a Disney research initiative completed in partnership with the Institute of Technology Zürich for better quality in eye capture for building digital face models in video games.
Disney may not be as prolific in patenting activities as many other corporations featured in the Companies We Follow series, but the company did place 211th overall during 2013 in terms of U.S. patents received by entities worldwide; statistics released by the Intellectual Property Owners Association show that Disney earned 137 patents that year, almost 25 percent more than they received the year prior.
Surprising to some may be that the effects of the Supreme Court ruling in Alice v. CLS Bank has negatively impacted the patent holdings of Disney as a series of patents protecting lip-sync animation technologies were declared invalid in September by a U.S. district judge in California, which found that the patents only protected an abstract set of rules. Over the years, Disney has patented a wide array of technologies, from drink dispensers to amusement rides with spinning passenger cars to irrigation control systems. But they do have a variety of software related innovations that have been patented, so like everyone else in the space they are not immune to the uncertainty created by the Supreme Court.
This is our first extended look at the patented technologies being protected by Disney, but we’re finding some incredible technologies disclosed by patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 3D imaging was a theme we saw running through a number of patent applications we discuss below in more detail, including one that would protect a method of capturing three-dimensional panorama views. We also found an intriguing technology using electrostatic forces to lift objects in amusement park attractions.
Disney has also recently added to their portfolio in recent weeks with patents involving some engineering marvels. In terms of amusement park rides and features, we found patents protecting dynamic water features, a turntable racing ride with a small area footprint as well as a system for executing a choreographed airborne display with the use of marionettes and drones. Video gaming and online socialization innovations are also protected by a few patents that we’re sharing today.
Disney’s Patent Applications: From 3D Video Editing to Electrostatic Levitation of Show Objects
A strong sense of innovation runs through the entire operations of the Walt Disney Company and the many forms of entertainment media developed by the corporation. For decades, Disney has benefitted from the work of its Imagineering teams, groups of designers and engineers who develop rides and many other features for Disney’s 11 theme parks located worldwide as well as cruise ships, water parks and hotels. Disney’s amusement parks have long had a particular focus on the subject of innovation as can be seen in the many attractions of the Tomorrowland and Epcot theme lands over the years, from the Carousel of Progress to the high tech interactive facility known as Innoventions. Technological innovations sometimes even inspire the films produced by Disney; a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project in inflatable robotics was part of the inspiration for this year’s animated film Big Hero 6, which has been a success with critics as well as commercially. The corporation also works with small technology developers as part of its Disney Innovation Day, where tech startups are invited to give presentations to potential investors about their products.
Disney’s film production studio has released some of its most successful movies in terms of box office receipts within the past few years and animated movies such as Big Hero 6 and Frozen have been a big part of that success, as well as action films such as The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Even those supposedly live action movies utilize a lot of computer editing techniques and we were intrigued by a couple of Disney innovations related to recording three-dimensional video and other image content. A better framework for combining image data from multiple viewpoints to create 3D video renderings is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140327676, filed under the title View Point Representation for 3-D Scenes. The computer-implemented method claimed by this patent application generates information based on perspectives of a 3D scene involving techniques such as receiving and tracking location points of dynamic objects within the scene. This technology overcomes shortcomings associated with the use of Cartesian coordinates for capturing 3D scene information while reducing the amount of data retained in order to create 3D renderings. An increase to the efficiency of capturing image data for 3D image rendering is also featured by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140307045, which is titled Stereoscopic Panoramas. This patent application would protect a system configured to generate stereoscopic panoramas which involves the use of a computer program with an image component configured to obtain images forming a set of adjacent images, an up-sampling component for determining interpolated images and adjacent images as well as a stitching component that determines a stereoscopic panoramas. This invention, which could be utilized by consumer cameras, is intended to introduce 3D image rendering to panorama images recorded by a single camera rotating around an optical center.
Other than 3D imaging, Disney is also involved in other areas of content production research, including better methods of distributing films to movie theaters. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140282686, entitled Methods and Systems for Digital File Distribution to Theaters, claims a method that involves updating the track files contained within an original composition playlist on a server, determining versions of the playlist that have already been transmitted to a theater and transmitting new track files to the theater if necessary. This system has been devised to improve upon the use of digital content packages, which can include a cumbersome amount of data and require a number of permutations to satisfy the needs of various theaters, which is costly. This system could upload films, trailers, sound formats and more directly to theaters as needed.
Disney’s recent innovations in entertainment extend into the realm of video gaming as well. Here, we found another filing that involved 3D rendering technologies in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140333668, filed under the title Augmented Reality Videogame Broadcast Programming. This invention is intended to overcome limitations in 2D graphics renderings for sports games that make a player aware that a video game is only a simulation, reducing their interest in playing the game. The method for integrating a virtual rendering system and a video capture system claimed by the patent application outputs a composite render to a display which is built from data collected from both virtual cameras within a virtual environment as well as a robotic camera in a real environment programmed by the virtual camera system.
We also noticed an intriguing technology providing a novel command interface for users of video gaming systems and even vehicles outlined within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140309035, titled Interactive Lean Sensor for Controlling a Vehicle Motion System and Navigating Virtual Environments. The patent application would protect an interactive system for lean-based control of a ride or video game experience that includes a vehicle seat that physically supports a passenger, an actuator assembly that selectively provides movement to the vehicle base and a plurality of force sensors positioned in the vehicle seat to sense forces applied by a passenger. This technology could be incorporated into video games or video displays for ride experiences in such a way that better mimics the riding experience offered, whether that involves riding on the back of a dragon or a running animal, both of which are mentioned within the patent application.
Some of the attractions available at Disney theme parks are designed to provide an immersive theatrical experience to visitors. We were instantly intrigued by an innovation designed to improve aspects of these shows which would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140321024, entitled Large-Area Controlled Electrostatic Levitation of Lightweight Show Objects. The patent application claims a system for levitating an object with a body adapted for receiving a static charge using an array of at least three electrostatic generators, each of the generators having an exposed element that becomes statically charged, and a controller for operating the electrostatic generators to provide the static charge at various voltages to provide an electrostatic lifting force to an object. Mobile robotics working within a display, which would also provide a great improvement to immersive experiences provided by theme park rides, are the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140292770, which is titled Display With Robotic Pixels. This innovation involves the use of robotic mobile pixels on a visual display which can adopt shapes for cartoon animation and change shape as a character moves. The patent application would protect a method for generating a visual representation for display using mobile entities that involves determining an amount of mobile entities and computing a distribution of goal positions for the mobile entities to create a visual representation of an image.
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Issued Patents of Note: From Choreographed Aerial Displays to Enhanced Online Socialization
The amusement rides and other features which populate Disney theme parks all over the world are the product of a great amount of innovation on behalf of the corporation’s research and development activities. We noticed a trio of patents for theme park attractions that are sure to fire up the imaginations of our readers. An improved system for choreographing and reproducing shows involving airborne puppets has been protected for Disney through U.S. Patent No. 8876571, which is titled Aerial Display System with Marionettes Articulated and Supported by Airborne Devices. The technology involves the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones; patent applications filed by Disney involving the use of drones had created quote a stir when those filings were published earlier this year. This particular patent claims a system for providing an aerial display comprising a plurality of UAVs and a ground control system executing a fleet manager module with a memory storing a different flight plan for each of the UAVs, which are connected via tether lines to marionettes. The system is intended to enable the safe and repeatable performance of aerial displays involving large-scale, articulated marionettes for a wide range of special occasions.
Visually exciting displays which involve images projected onto liquid surfaces are disclosed by U.S. Patent No. 8899756, which is titled Infrared Video Tracking for Use in Projecting Onto Dynamic Water Features. The patent protects a projection system for projecting upon a liquid surface which involves an agitation mechanism that generates a plurality of air bubbles near the liquid surface, a tracking system that tracks the movement of the air bubbles and a projector projecting a video stream onto the bubbles. The use of air bubbles of specific sizes, quantities and locations supports dynamic displays within water features to provide a moving and varying projection onto the liquid. Disney has also been awarded the right to protect an amusement park ride providing a racing experience, which is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8864592, issued under the title Turntable Racing System. The ride apparatus protected by this patent includes a first turntable assembly with a drive mechanism for rotating the turntable and a second turntable, supported by the first turntable, with its own rotation drive mechanism and a number of passenger seats mounted to its surface. As the patent states, this turntable ride was developed to “provide a family friendly ride with a level of thrill and competitive excitement that could be provided with a footprint similar to a tea cup-like ride” while also improving on the dizzying effects and predictable nature of tea cup rides.
Computer and video games, which we saw featured in patent applications filed by Disney above, were also at the heart of a couple of other patents which we felt like sharing with our readers today. Gamers who understand how discouraging it can be to return to a game after a long hiatus only to realize that they’ve forgotten many key game functions and commands should find a little relief with the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8882582, which is titled Interactive Computer Game Refresher Elements. The patent claims a computer-implemented method of automatically generating user-specific tutorials for an interactive game on a games terminal that involves monitoring a performance metric of a user in a gameplay environment and the generation of a tutorial for the user based on time between gaming sessions and the determination that the skill level of a player has fallen below a predetermined skill threshold. This video game innovation is designed to provide users with a quick game tutorial to refresh their knowledge on game controls, plot and other important game features they may have forgotten.
Better methods of displaying heads-up displays (HUDs) in racing games or other games utilizing HUDs to display points and health totals are the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8890774, issued under the title Heads-Up Display for a Gaming Environment. This innovation is designed to improve a player’s ability to read important information in an HUD by placing the HUD closer to a user’s focal point based on the action displayed on the screen. The patent protects a computer-implemented method of displaying graphical elements in a virtual game environment which involves outputting a graphical user object for display on a screen which represents a user as well as a heads-up display element which is projected onto the user object so that the HUD element is displayed as part of a graphical user object.
Finally, we’ll wrap up our survey of Disney’s recently issued patents with a look into one issued to the corporation in early November that protects a novel system to support online socialization. U.S. Patent No. 8881030, which is titled System and Method for Enhancing Socialization in Virtual Worlds, protects a method of inducing a reply from a first client connected to a virtual world to facilitate a social interaction with a second client which involves determining that a first and second avatar are within close proximity within the virtual world and executing a social action of one avatar which is observable by the client controlling the other avatar. The invention is intended to encourage socialization within multiplayer games and other online contexts by overcoming the natural shyness and introversion of many players, helping them to reap the benefits of online social interactivity.