The Tech­nol­ogy Be­hind The Rides At Wdw

WDW Magazine - - Content - BY CARL TRENT

Dis­ney is the world’s leader in theme park ride tech­nol­ogy. That has been true since Walt got the idea for cre­at­ing Dis­ney­land way back in the 1950s.

To un­der­stand what goes into the ride tech­nol­ogy at Walt Dis­ney World, we have to jump in the time ma­chine and go back to when it all be­gan…


No, I’m not talk­ing about 1955, I’m talk­ing about go­ing all the way back to the 1930s—tak­ing a look at Walt Dis­ney, the in­ven­tor.

There is no doubt that Walt Dis­ney was one of the most in­flu­en­tial and creative minds of his, or any, time. Walt was the pioneer of an­i­mated film, live tele­vi­sion, fea­ture length fam­ily films, and a whole lot more.

But Walt had an­other side that is not talked about as much. That’s the in­ven­tor side. Walt was a true innovator and in­ven­tor. When he wanted to cre­ate move­ment in his an­i­ma­tions, he in­vented a new type of cam­era. When it came to an­i­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, Walt was the leader in in­no­va­tion and in­ven­tion.

When it came to theme park tech­nol­ogy, Walt was in a class all his own.


So just what did Walt cre­ate that’s in to­day’s rides at Walt Dis­ney World? Thought you’d never ask.


Every­one knows that Walt Dis­ney pi­o­neered ro­botic tech­nol­ogy. Right? Yes, he did, only he called it Au­dio-animatronics. Re­ally Au­dio-animatronics is just a fancy word for ro­bot.

Look around Walt Dis­ney World to­day. Au­dio-an­i­ma­tronic fig­ures are ev­ery­where. From the clas­sics like the Hall of Pres­i­dents (where it all started), to the En­chanted Tiki Room and the Carousel of Progress, they all con­tain fig­ures that were de­signed by Walt and his team.

Through the years, the tech­nol­ogy be­hind the Au­dio-an­i­ma­tronic fig­ures has got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter, but the ba­sic con­cept is still found even in the new­est rides, like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.


Walt’s Other In­ven­tions

OK, what else did Walt in­vent? Let’s see… How about the modern day roller coaster? Yes, Dis­ney pi­o­neered roller coaster design with the first use of tubu­lar steel track when the Mat­ter­horn Bob­sleds were in­tro­duced in 1959. All of the Walt Dis­ney World roller coast­ers are built with tubed track tech­nol­ogy.

Oh, and you know those “Cir­cle-vi­sion 360°” movies in Ep­cot and China? Walt had a hand in those cre­at­ing one called Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful in 1955. Yes, 1955.

Walt was truly the in­spi­ra­tion for pretty much all of the theme park tech­nol­ogy we see to­day at Walt Dis­ney World.

No we’re not done yet. Let’s talk about to­day’s tech­nol­ogy. It’s re­ally in­cred­i­ble.

I could talk for hours about the ride tech­nolo­gies that make the rides at Walt Dis­ney World work, but I’ll try to keep it down to fewer than 100 pages. Let’s dive in…

The Need for Speed

When Dis­ney­land opened, it didn’t have any “thrill” rides. Walt wasn’t to­tally con­vinced that they would work in his Dis­ney­land. He was skep­ti­cal un­til the Mat­ter­horn Bob­sleds opened in 1959. The Mat­ter­horn was a big hit and Walt started think­ing about how to in­cor­po­rate “thrill” rides into the parks.

“Thrill” rides are an area where Dis­ney has ex­celled with tech­nol­ogy.

Space Moun­tain

When you talk about tech­nol­ogy and “thrill” rides at Walt Dis­ney World, you have to start with Space Moun­tain. Space Moun­tain was def­i­nitely Dis­ney’s first big roller coaster ride.

Space Moun­tain was ac­tu­ally the first com­puter-con­trolled roller coaster in the world. In fact, Walt wanted to build Space Moun­tain in Dis­ney­land but the tech­nol­ogy wasn’t up to it yet. They had to wait eleven years for the tech­nol­ogy to catch up to Walt’s dream.

Be­lieve it or not, Space Moun­tain is the slow­est “thrill” ride at Walt Dis­ney World. It just seems faster than the oth­ers be­cause of one low-tech trick: tur­ing off the lights makes it seem like you are mov­ing faster than you re­ally are.

Space Moun­tain reaches a top speed of 28 miles per hour. Big Thun­der Moun­tain Rail­road is 30mph. Splash Moun­tain hits a top speed of around 40mph on the drop. High tech meets low tech.

The Twi­light Zone Tower of Ter­ror

Prob­a­bly the most so­phis­ti­cated ride at Walt Dis­ney World is The Twi­light Zone Tower of Ter­ror. It truly is a “Modern Marvel” of tech­nol­ogy.

There are a whole bunch of sys­tems that go into mak­ing the Tower of Ter­ror one of the most thrilling rides any­where, but let’s just look at the 2 “big­gies.”

Let’s start with the ride ve­hi­cle. Dis­ney is pretty well known for putting it’s ride ve­hi­cles on tracks, but that’s not how the ride ve­hi­cles on the Tower of Ter­ror work. They are Au­ton­o­mous Guided Ve­hi­cles (AGVS), which move in­de­pen­dently and are in­ter­nally battery pow­ered.

The AGVS are guided by sig­nals from wires built into the floor of the build­ing. They fol­low a pre­planned route and send lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion back to the main com­puter via the Wi-fi sys­tem in the build­ing.

The big el­e­va­tor shaft where all the drops hap­pen is truly amaz­ing. The up and down mo­tion is con­trolled by a huge (12-feet wide, 7-feet high, and 35-feet long) Lin­ear In­duc­tion Mo­tor (LIM) sys­tem lo­cated in the top of the shaft. These are the same type mo­tors that power a cou­ple of other rides at Walt Dis­ney World. (Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Star­ring Aero­smith, and To­mor­row­land Tran­sit Au­thor­ity.)

Not only is there a mo­tor at the top of the shaft, there is an­other sys­tem at the bot­tom of the shaft that helps pull the ride ve­hi­cles down, so you ac­tu­ally fall faster than grav­ity would pull you. (Next time you ride, try putting a coin on your knee and you’ll see it float in front of you be­cause you’re drop­ping faster than grav­ity is pulling the coin down.)

If you want to get re­ally geeky about the tech in the Tower of Ter­ror check out -­dus­try­­gi­neer­ing-dis­neys-tower-of-ter­ror-ride/5209


In 1998, Dis­ney stepped into a whole new world of tech­nol­ogy. That was the tech­nol­ogy of blend­ing live an­i­mals with live hu­mans.

Oh yes, there is a whole lot of tech­nol­ogy that goes into deal­ing with an­i­mals.

Of course, there is the care and feed­ing of an­i­mals, which is fas­ci­nat­ing. Just go back some­time and go through Rafiki’s Planet Watch to see what goes into tak­ing care of all of the an­i­mals.

The most fas­ci­nat­ing use of tech­nol­ogy with the an­i­mals may be some­thing you don’t even see. This tech­nol­ogy is fea­tured promi­nently in Kil­i­man­jaro Sa­faris, and that’s the tech­nol­ogy of keep­ing an­i­mals in­side their des­ig­nated spa­ces.

Some an­i­mals don’t work and play well to­gether, no mat­ter what all the Dis­ney movies say. One of Dis­ney’s first ma­jor tasks was to build a place where an­i­mals could be seen but where they wouldn’t eat each other.

Kil­i­man­jaro Sa­faris does this by us­ing walls, ditches, and bar­ri­ers that have been built into the Sa­van­nah to look nat­u­ral. Some of them you see, and some you don’t.

There was also the challenge of keep­ing the an­i­mals in places where they are vis­i­ble from the ride ve­hi­cles. For ex­am­ple, lions are shy. They don’t like to be seen. Dis­ney had to design a way to get the lions to stay in a place where guests could view them.

For this, Dis­ney uses a num­ber of dif­fer­ent strate­gies. For the lions, it’s tem­per­a­ture con­trol. There is an area where air is pumped and that draws the lions to that area (where they can be seen!).

You’ll see gi­raffes go­ing to the trees and eat­ing from the feeder boxes lo­cated up in the trees. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing use of tech­nol­ogy.


Dis­ney’s most re­cent ad­vance in tech­nol­ogy has come in the use of pro­jec­tion and dig­i­tal map­ping. Dis­ney has al­ways been a leader in dis­play tech­nol­ogy, but lately it’s tak­ing it to a whole new level.

Dis­ney has been us­ing dig­i­tal map­ping to change the way Au­dio-animatronics are cre­ated. You can see this in two of the new­est rides at Walt Dis­ney World.

When the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened, the mine scene was truly amaz­ing. The faces of the dwarfs seemed to shine. This was ac­com­plished by adding a dig­i­tally cre­ated face to the nor­mal au­dio an­i­ma­tronic fig­ures. This al­lows for the characters make very re­al­is­tic fa­cial mo­tions.

Dig­i­tal map­ping was taken to a whole new level in the new Frozen Ever Af­ter at­trac­tion. There are some mind blow­ing scenes, es­pe­cially dur­ing the “Let it go” sec­tion of the ride.

You can also see this new tech­nol­ogy in the Haunted Man­sion in sev­eral scenes. Dig­i­tal pro­jec­tion is the next big thing in Dis­ney tech­nol­ogy.


Speak­ing of the next big thing, let’s fin­ish up by talk­ing about the fu­ture. In many ways the fu­ture is al­ready here.

In just a few months Pan­dora - The World of Avatar will open in An­i­mal King­dom. There is some re­ally ex­cit­ing tech­nol­ogy be­ing built into Pan­dora.

Just a cou­ple of weeks ago, Dis­ney re­leased a video show­ing some of the new leaps in tech­nol­ogy that will be fea­tured in Pan­dora. The next gen­er­a­tion of Au­dio-animatronics looks in­cred­i­ble and al­most life­like.

The dis­play tech­nol­ogy that will make you feel like you can in­ter­act with the bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent for­est. And Dis­ney has filed a pa­tent for plants that can ac­tu­ally re­act to hu­mans. This is crazy.

Just a short walk from Pan­dora, Dis­ney will be un­veil­ing new tech­nolo­gies when Rivers of Light opens (fi­nally!). Dis­ney will be push­ing the en­ve­lope of us­ing light and wa­ter to­gether to cre­ate beau­ti­ful ef­fects.

They’ve been do­ing this for a while with Fan­tas­mic!, but this is a whole new level of spe­cial ef­fects.

It’s widely spec­u­lated that a vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) at­trac­tion fea­tur­ing Wreck It Ralph will be com­ing to the area cur­rently oc­cu­pied by Stitch’s Great Es­cape in To­mor­row­land at the Magic King­dom. Also, it’s ru­mored that a VR at­trac­tion fea­tur­ing the Guardians of the Galaxy will be re­plac­ing Ellen’s En­ergy Ad­ven­ture in Ep­cot.

It’s go­ing to be fun to watch the fu­ture of tech­nol­ogy in the rides at Walt Dis­ney World.

Tech­nol­ogy in rides is fas­ci­nat­ing, and Dis­ney is the best in the world at de­vel­op­ing it. What sets Dis­ney apart, and the same thing that made Walt Dis­ney so spe­cial, is the abil­ity to use tech­nol­ogy to tell a great story. Yes, Walt was a great in­ven­tor, but most of all he was an in­cred­i­ble sto­ry­teller.

It’s fit­ting that the parks that bear his name are full of at­trac­tions that tell won­der­ful sto­ries and use in­cred­i­ble tech­nol­ogy to do it!

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