Disney has spent a billion dollars developing, testing and implementing their new MagicBands, which connect wearers to a vast and unseen system of sensors throughout Disney World. The deceptively simple looking little rubber wristbands are engineered to remove all of the “friction” from the theme park experience: you can swipe onto rides, avoid long lines, and even purchase a soda, all with a flick of the wrist. Is this the future of invisible technology? And what does it feel like to experience it in action?
Writing for Wired, Cliff Kuang investigated the genesis of the MagicBand, along with the implications of Disney’s billion dollar bet on the technology. In the excerpt below, Kuang describes dinner at Disney World, MagicBand style:
If you’re wearing your Disney MagicBand and you’ve made a reservation, a host will greet you at the drawbridge and already know your name—Welcome Mr. Tanner! She’ll be followed by another smiling person—Sit anywhere you like! Neither will mention that, by some mysterious power, your food will find you.
“It’s like magic!” a woman says to her family as they sit. “How do they find our table?” The dining hall, inspired by Beauty and the Beast, features Baroque details but feels like a large, orderly cafeteria. The couple’s young son flits around the table. After a few minutes, he settles into his chair without actually sitting down, as kids often do. Soon, their food arrives exactly as promised, delivered by a smiling young man pushing an ornately carved serving cart that resembles a display case at an old museum.
It’s surprising how the woman’s sensible question immediately fades, unanswered, in the rising aroma of French onion soup and roast beef sandwiches. This is by design. The family entered a matrix of technology the moment it crossed the moat, one geared toward anticipating their whims without offering the slightest clue how.
How do they find our table? The answer is around their wrists.
Their MagicBands, tech-studded wristbands available to every visitor to the Magic Kingdom, feature a long-range radio that can transmit more than 40 feet in every direction. The hostess, on her modified iPhone, received a signal when the family was just a few paces away. Tanner family inbound! The kitchen also queued up: Two French onion soups, two roast beef sandwiches! When they sat down, a radio receiver in the table picked up the signals from their MagicBands and triangulated their location using another receiver in the ceiling. The server—as in waitperson, not computer array—knew what they ordered before they even approached the restaurant and knew where they were sitting.