Disney loses TV subscribers but innovates in amusement rides and robotics

By Steve Brachmann
December 12, 2015

disney-335aThe Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) of Burbank, CA, is a diversified mass media and entertainment conglomerate with business divisions in amusement parks, full-length movies, television production and video gaming. In recent months, Disney executives had reported some turbulence in its television division, where its subsidiary ESPN has lost seven million viewers in a period of two years. The lost cable subscriber base has spurred speculation that streaming television service rival Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) could overtake Disney in a few years in terms of television subscribers. ESPN accounts for 75 percent of Disney’s television revenues so a weaker subscriber base could be a big blow to the company. The recent annual earnings report filed by Disney with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed that corporate revenues increased to $52.5 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, up from $48.8 billion in the previous year.

Disney is the home of Imagineering, the celebrated research and development group which attempts to “create the never-before-seen” for Disney’s amusement parks and resorts. Disney has embraced the smartphone revolution at its amusement parks, operating D-Tech stores at Walt Disney World which give consumers the ability to build custom phone cases or MagicBands, wristbands which work as electronic keys for hotel room and amusement park access. Some news reports have been showing a strong partnership between Disney and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, where collaboration has led to the development of an electromagnetic signal Disney 2015 clustersensing technology which can identify a device a person touches by measuring electrical signals traveling through that person’s body. Elsewhere, Carnegie Mellon and Disney have further teamed up to build a 3D printing platform for robotics construction which is designed to be used by non-experts.

Much of Disney’s patenting activity is found within Disney Enterprises, which ranked 164th in 2014 with 212 patents earned from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; this was an increase of 54.7 percent over the year. Through most of 2015, the Walt Disney Company had earned a total of 206 U.S. patent grants from all of its subsidiaries, as we learned from the patent portfolio analysis tools available at Innography. The text cluster is showing us significant development in the fields of display devices, media content, video streams and 2-D imaging.

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Disney’s Issued Patents: From Water Shields for Rides to Humanoid Robotics

selective illuminationA pair of patents issued to Disney in recent weeks showcase some intriguing improvements to the user experience for various rides and attractions at amusement parks. U.S. Patent No. 9155971, titled Selective Illumination of Physical Scenery in Amusement Park Rides, protects a display system for use with amusement park rides and other attractions which includes a first light source illuminating a first item in a 3D physical set, a second light source illuminating a second item in the set, a first optical filter passing light from the illuminated first item and blocking light from the second item and a second optical filter passing light from the illuminated second item and blocking light from the first item. This invention is intended to different ride experiences even for passengers in the same car which can vary the thrill level of a ride appropriate to age and other factors. A tool that can help water ride passengers escape without becoming soaked is featured within U.S. Patent No. 9174704, entitled Interactive Water Shield for Rafts or Boats in Water Rides. It discloses a passenger boat for interactively shielding passengers from incoming water including a hull with seats for receiving passengers, a rider interactive assembly which can receive input from passengers, a water shield supported on the hull and an actuation system operating in response to passenger input to move from a first position to a second one. The interactive elements of this water shield allow water ride passengers to decide for themselves if they want to be soaked or not.

A novel active stylus for use with interactive touchscreen devices is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 9130396, issued under the title Kinetically Chargeable Stylus Device. The device claimed here includes a power unit including an inductor, a magnet and an energy storage unit, and then multiple modes of operation in which the stylus is charged either by an electrical current created by moving a magnet in relation to an inductor or an electrical current received from a non-kinetic source. This innovation allows for the use of active styli with electronic devices which can be conveniently charged if a battery is empty.

robot actionA robotics technology which helps humanoid robots better recreate actions performed by humans is discussed within U.S. Patent No. 9162720, which is titled Robot Action Based on Human Demonstration. It discloses a method for reproducing a designated action of a human with a robot by receiving motion capture data and contact force data obtained from the human performing the designated action, approximating a center of mass trajectory of the human performing the action and generating a planned robot action for emulating the designated action by solving an inverse kinematics problem using the center of mass trajectory as a hard constraint and the motion capture data as a soft constraint to determine joint angle trajectories. The use of center of mass trajectory data helps humanoid robots recreate the action of human operators without losing their balance.

video poetryAn intriguing video production technology which lets users stitch together personal videos for sharing on social networks is described within U.S. Patent No. 9190109, entitled System and Method for Video Poetry Using Text Based Related Media. It protects a method for creating a unified video clip by presenting a user interface displaying a plurality of predefined words selectable by a user to form a sentence, receiving an ordered list of user selected words, presenting a plurality of video clips including content representing selected words to the user, receiving an ordered list of user selected video clips and generating the unified video clip using the ordered list of video clips. This innovation is intended to allow users to create video mash-ups with viral social media appeal while reducing the technical knowledge required to create such videos.

Pixar is another Disney property that receives patents and we took note of a novel technology for rendering computer-generated textures, which is outlined in U.S. Patent No. 9098944, issued under the title Scale Separation in Hair Dynamics. It claims a method of receiving information specifying a first pose of a curve model with a plurality of properties representing forces, receiving information specifying a second pose of a curve model, determining a difference between the poses, identifying how properties of the curve model contribute to the difference at their respective portions, grouping the plurality of curve model properties into scale separations categorizing the different manners that grouped properties contribute to the determined difference, weighting each of the scale separation groups with assigned weights indicating the amount of influence that properties of the scale separation are applicable at the corresponding scale selection and storing information describing the weighted plurality of scale separations in a storage device. This invention addresses some of the shortcomings that exist in computer-generated imagery (CGI) systems when it comes to simulating hair or fur in animated content.

 

Patent Applications of Note: From Special Effects for Attractions to Tracking Systems for Sports Broadcasts

kinetic flameTheme park attractions and amusement rides were targeted by a trio of Disney patent applications that we found during our recent survey. A technology for providing a realistic flickering flame at a close distance to viewers is disclosed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150292698, filed under the title Kinetic Flame Device. It would protect an apparatus for simulating a flickering flame effect having a housing with an interior space, a pendulum member with a flame-shaped piece at an end and mounted within the interior space, a light source within the housing to selectively transmit light onto the flame-shaped piece, a drive mechanism providing kinetic motion at another end of the pendulum and a support member coupled to the housing and passing through a hole of the pendulum member. This kinetic flame device is capable of creating lighting effects mimicking the chaotic but real movement of flames. An intriguing digital technology developed for dice games is at the center of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150231486, titled Digital Detection of Physical Dice Rolls via Conductive Tray. It claims a conductive tray for determining a rolled face from a plurality of die faces and having a detection grid, a memory storing a detection algorithm and a processor that detects an electrical charge on a detection grid caused by the die, determines the rolled face of the die based on the electrical charge using the detection algorithm and transmits the rolled face of the die. This innovation achieves the detection of rolled die faces without the expense of embedding technology into each game piece. A roller coaster innovation usable on new or existing tracks to provide cantilevered rideunobstructed views and increased turn velocity is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20150251101, entitled Amusement Park Ride with Cantilevered Ride Vehicles. It discloses an amusement park ride with a track defining a ride path and a ride vehicle having a track connector assembly coupled to the track for movement along the ride path, a vehicle base mounted to the track connector assembly to move with the assembly, a bridge extending from the vehicle base and a passenger compartment with seats for passengers and mounted to the bridge in such a way that at least a portion of the passenger compartment has cantilever mounting relative to the track connector assembly. This invention is designed to create a new ride experience for those individuals who have become used to a conventional ride track while also retaining the use of a track already in operation.

An interesting feature developed for video gaming applications which addresses the shortcomings of limited battery capacity in devices is explained in U.S. Patent Application No. 20150224400, entitled Storytelling Environment: Altering Gameplay Based on Battery Life. It claims a non-transitory computer-readable medium containing computer program code executable to perform an operation of retrieving a story for playing which has a plurality of actions and stimulus criteria for each action, determining a plurality of available storytelling devices for use in story playback, assigning each action to respective available storytelling devices based on an indication of battery charge for each device and initiating playback of the story using available storytelling devices to perform the respective actions as stimulus criteria are satisfied. This innovation is designed to keep providing gameplay in response to a low battery charge without disrupting the game experience, such as by reducing dialogue displayed within a game.

A tracking technology for sporting events which has obvious implications for Disney’s ESPN property is reflected within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150221096, titled Multiple-Object Tracking and Team Identification for Game Strategy Analysis. The method of extracting data from a video stream claimed here involves updating a reference image representative of a background scene’s statistical model where the updating is based on a first image, locating a plurality of foregrounds in the first image by comparing the reference and first images, computing foreground parameters measuring the foreground’s image and real-world characteristics and assigning an object track to each foreground to each foreground that is determined to be representative of a single pre-selected object. This system is designed to produce statistical analyses and game dynamic visualizations derived from player position and team affiliation, which requires the processing of large amounts of video information.

customized experiencesSystems for customizing the experience of users engaging with networked applications by presenting them with individualized content is outlined in U.S. Patent Application No. 20150326627, entitled System and Method for Customized Experiences in a Shared Online Environment. It discloses an online server for providing customized experiences to a plurality of client stations in a shared online environment, the online server having an accounts database with data relating to a plurality of clients and a server processor that retrieves a first client data including age and gender from the accounts database, retrieves a second client data including age and gender for a different client from the accounts database, creates both first and second customized virtual space from the shared virtual space based on age and gender of respective clients and sends customized virtual spaces to be displayed by the appropriate client. This innovation is intended to provide personalized content to users of a shared online environment in a way that doesn’t hinder group participation.

Lastly, we took some time to explore an innovation in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, which is expressed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150269408, titled Visual Localization of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Based on Marker Detection and Processing. The patent application would protect a localization marker adapted for identification with a single scan direction and having a body with an exposed surface and a marker pattern disposed on the exposed surface and having a fixed pattern comprising a pair of linear features and a date area sandwiched between the linear features. The invention results in a localization system to quickly and efficiently provide absolute position data for locating UAVs operating in an air space.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

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There are currently 1 Comment comments.

  1. Bo Mullen December 12, 2015 2:15 pm

    ESPN is saturated with a lot of garbage, with exception of college football and basketball, you can get rid of the shows like LaBatard, Bayless and Robert A, Sports Nation, Outside the Lines and all the other useless shows.