New Metaverse Technology Patented by Disney Sounds a Little Dystopian

It's being described as a "virtual-world simulator in a real-world venue"

The Walt Disney Company text and Mickey Mouse character on a smartphone. Disney recently patented virtual reality, metaverse adjacent tech for their theme parks.
Mickey, meet metaverse.
Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Will the metaverse be as big a deal as many technology companies hope it will? Some organizations are readying their own innovations to best take advantage of this digital space, including Disney. The company recently filed a patent on a new approach to reaching customers in their theme parks. And the more you read about it, the more readers with a penchant for dystopian fiction might feel a sense of déjà vu.

A new report at Insider has more details on what it is, exactly, that Disney is looking to do. The patent filing describes the technology as “[a] virtual-world simulator in a real-world venue,” combining the traditional conception of the digital metaverse with their current parks, no VR headset needed. As Insider’s article notes, it would allow for customized images and effects to be projected within the confines of a theme park.

The emphasis here is on “customized.” The technology also incorporates the ability to track theme park visitors and display personalized images to them. One assumes that one family could get a Frozen-themed experience, while others might see Star Wars characters as they make their way through the park.

“Our efforts to date are merely a prologue to a time when we’ll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing for storytelling without boundaries in our own Disney metaverse,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in December, per Insider.

If the idea of virtual characters popping up to greet people in a particular environment sounds familiar, it’s very possible that you’ve read some of George Saunders’s satirical fiction. “My Flamboyant Grandson,” from his 2006 collection In Persuasion Nation, details a near-future Times Square where something very similar to this technology is in use. Spoiler alert: it is terrifying.

According to a Los Angeles Times article on the patent, Disney does not have plans to use this technology at present. Whether or not that continues to be the case remains to be seen.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.