With its grand debut just two short(ish) years away, we’re starting to get more and more information about Disney’s Star Wars Land, which is due to arrive simultaneously at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. Even with this steady trickle of confirmations, however – and even with the occasional sneak peek at the ongoing construction – there is still much that has yet to be established.
Fortunately for us, we still have the rumor mill to go off of. The whispers here have been particularly juicy over the past few years, including the morsels that guests may switch out their vehicles mid-ride on the First Order attraction and that there just might be a smattering of interactive Force experiences located throughout the area, much like in both The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and, supposedly, the upcoming Pandora: The World of Avatar. But these pale in comparison to another, bigger one – one that Disney just may have just inadvertently confirmed.
The BBC was at a panel the company threw at the South by Southwest Conference this past weekend. (SXSW, for all those who don’t know, is an expo that “celebrate[s] the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries,” according to its site.) There, Disney demonstrated the next generation of its audio-animatronic figures that will eventually be rolled out at all of its theme parks around the world, explaining that the heart of them will be artificial intelligence and machine learning – two bases that will allow them to move around the parks, interact with guests, and even have behavioral goals that will comprise the foundation of their personalities. “All these emerging technologies are going to be key to the next generation of entertainment,” Senior Vice President for Research and Development Jon Snoddy told the audience.
While no specifics were mentioned for future applications – nor was any footage allowed to come out of the panel – this lines up perfectly with the long-lived rumor that the upcoming Star Wars expansion will be home to autonomous droids that will move freely throughout the area and be able to interact with intergalactic visitors on their own (think R2-D2 here, rolling merrily about in front of the Mos Eisley-esque cantina). If true, this would provide for a whole extra level of engagement and immersion for guests – and potentially allow Disney to work around the bottlenecks that character meet-‘n-greets oftentimes create, given that only so many actors can be deployed to represent one character at any given time. Should that Chewbacca encounter start to draw a line upwards of an hour, a whole fleet of droids, comprising everything from the ‘70s gonks to the state-of-the-art astromechs (such as BB-8), could be deployed, inundating the land for a short time to help disperse crowds.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. These semi-autonomous robots could be programmed to engage in choreographed group behaviors, should guests not be swarming them for selfies or “autographs,” allowing for a dynamic level of attraction that is totally absent from theme parks today. And this, in turn, could almost completely change our understanding of touring plans, making a static experience into a thoroughly fluid one.
Should Disney really be on the cutting edge of this field, as it claims, then themed entertainment as we know it today could be totally redrawn by the end of the next decade.