Fun Foto Friday: OkTEAberfest!

September 26, 2014

Blogger-at-Large, Clara Rice here!  Last weekend, JRA and the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA)'s Eastern North America Board played host to OkTEAberfest – the first Cincinnati event in TEA history! Over 30 TEA members traveled from as far away as New York, Sacramento, Orlando, Nashville and LA to attend the two days of events, which included Oktoberfest Zinzinnati and the Cincinnati Comic Expo. And we were excited to show them our hometown on one of its busiest (and sunniest!) weekends.

The group began their visit with one of the most highly anticipated Oktoberfest events – the 8th Annual Running of the Wieners! Dachshunds raced across Cincinnati’s Fountain Square for treats, glory, and a case of beer for their owners while adorned in hot dog bun costumes (and occasionally, Tyrolian hats).


Notice her dachshund-patterned shirt.  Genius.

After the races, I was happy to introduce some of our out-of-towners to their first Cincinnati chili experience…

“What a fun event,” said The Nassal Company's Melissa Ruminot, pictured above in authentic Skyline Chili attire. “I was able to get a true sense of what Cincinnati is all about: from the cultural aspects of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, to wiener dog races, Comic Expo, and Skyline Chili. It was fantastic and well worth the trip.”

The afternoon took on a more contemplative note as the group toured the National Underground Freedom Center. Recently celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Freedom Center chronicles the stories of those who fled across the Ohio River in the 1800s, while emphasizing the struggles for freedom that still exist today. The tour, sponsored by The Nassal Company, was co-led by a Freedom Center docent and JRA’s Rob Morgan, offering an informative balance of content and design process.

Following the tour, the group returned to JRA’s office for an informal discussion on the challenges and opportunities surrounding culturally sensitive projects and topics. The panel included JRA’s Dan Schultz, LF Creative Group’s Rodney Heiligmann and The Nassal Company’s Marc Kish.

Friday’s festivities concluded with a JRA-sponsored wine reception at one of my favorite local haunts, the Plum Court Wine Room, followed by dinner in Cincinnati’s newly-revitalized Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As you can see, folks definitely soaked in the city’s nighttime vistas.

Plum Court Wine Room

Walking through Washington Park on the way to dinner.  At dusk.

Saturday began with “From Page to Park: Transforming Comic Characters Into Blockbuster Attractions”, a panel discussion featuring JRA’s Shawn McCoy and Adirondack Studios’ Michael Blau at the Cincinnati Comic Expo. The panel answered the question, “how do you create an authentic attraction experience from a cherished intellectual property like Harry Potter or Transformers?” Shawn and Michael’s remarks attracted a sizeable crowd, and much to my surprise and delight, several young people in the audience approached me afterwards inquiring about TEA NextGen membership!

From left: Shawn McCoy, Michael Blau, Yours Truly.

After the discussion, the group was free to explore the Comic Expo, and they ran into a few well-dressed characters. Patrick Jeffers, a NextGen member, was even able to have a “Doctor Who” moment.

I myself had one mission – to get a hug from Henry “The Fonz” Winkler…

…Mission accomplished. ☺

The group moved from superheroes to suds on the “Bootleggers, Brothels and Booze Tour”. The tour began at Arnold’s, Cincinnati’s oldest saloon, and meandered its way through Downtown streets before arriving at an authentic, turn-of-the-century brewing cellar (fun fact – before prohibition, Cincinnati housed 2,000 saloons!).

Our tour guide was certainly dressed appropriately for the weekend!

Gerke Brewery Cellar

For the grand finale, attendees were treated to a VIP Oktoberfest Experience, featuring complimentary brews, a German buffet and a prime view of the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, led by former boy banders and Cincinnati natives Nick and Drew Lachey. Some folks definitely got in the Oktoberfest spirit:

Celebrating Oktoberfest (and OkTEAberfest) with Michael Blau.

Teutonic times and beautiful weather were enjoyed by all. “My wife and I had a great time: I got some good business accomplished, and we got to spend time with fantastic TEA folks, including the NextGens,” said Larry Howard of Christie Digital Group. According to newly-minted TEA NextGen member, Hannah Motz, the weekend provided valuable one-on-one time with company members: “Everything from the wine tasting to the Comic Expo were great opportunities to meet professionals in an industry that I am growing to enjoy more and more.”

For additional photos, check out the TEA Facebook page, and stay tuned for news of the next Cincinnati event, coming in Summer 2015!


Tags: JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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Conference World Tour 2014: SATE at the Circus

September 24, 2014

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The Tibbals Learning Center: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, a project designed and managed by JRA.

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For the next stop on our Conference World Tour 2014, we’re heading to the campus of Florida State University in Sarasota, this year’s home of the Themed Entertainment Association’s SATE Conference. SATE (Storytelling Architecture Technology Experience) brings together creatives, producers, owners and operators in the visitor attractions industry, exploring issues, opportunities and possibilities relating to the creation of compelling guest experiences. The two-day conference takes place at the university’s beautiful John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and is Co-Chaired by Aram Ebben of Exp and Stefan Lawrence of Rethink Leisure & Entertainment. SATE is generously sponsored by co-presenters Christie and Electronsonic.

Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group (left) and Al Cross of PGAV. All images courtesy of TEA unless noted.

The conference program begins with the Storytelling and Architecture segments, chaired by Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group and Al Cross of PGAV, respectively. The Storytelling session: “Orchestrating Desire: Using Story to Create Compelling Experiences”, will feature Raul Fernandez of Brainwave ThoughtProducts and Denise Weston of WhiteWater West. The session promises “an exploration of premise vs. promise, story vs. backstory, character reality, and how ‘story’ makes experience meaningful in both traditional and interactive theme park attractions.” For the Architecture segment, Dr. Timothy Parker will explore the intersection of Emotion & Architecture, lighting design pioneers Zack Zanolli and Abbey Rosen Homes will discuss how light evokes feeling (and vice versa), and ITEC Entertainent Corporation’s Jeff M. Sugar will investigate The Psychology of Place.

Kenneth Feld, Feld Entertainment

After the Storytelling and Architecture segments, Phil Hettema will conduct an “Inside the Actors Studio”-esque on-stage interview with Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment and SATE headline speaker. Feld believes that “our only limits are our imaginations.” When his father purchased Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1967, Feld became his apprentice, learning every facet of the live entertainment industry he could. That sponge-like thirst for knowledge paid off, and Feld Entertainment has grown dramatically since he assumed the role of CEO in 1984. Today, the company presents live shows in 75 countries, with over 30 million people in attendance each year. The “Conversation with Kenneth Feld” will be a meeting of the minds between two dynamic industry leaders and promises to be a SATE highlight.

Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company and Mk Haley of Walt Disney Imagineering and FSU.

Day Two showcases SATE’s remaining segments: Technology, led by Mk Haley of Walt Disney Imagineering and FSU, and Experience, led by Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company. To kick off the Technology segment, UCLA Professor Mark Francis will moderate a panel on technology and guest entertainment in sports venues. Panelists include Johnny Miller of Bamboo Engine, Matthew Chaka Bainbridge Esq., of Bainbridge Sports Management, Bill Walsh of the Tampa Bay Rays, Daren Dulac of Extreme Networks and Larry Blocker of the Miami Marlins. Up next, Tommy Bridges of ATI, Stephen Villet of Smart Monkeys and Eric Cantrell of Medialon will participate in a panel moderated by Martin Palicki of InPark Magazine. The presenters will unveil how the latest and greatest show technologies taking over Las Vegas can be applied to theme parks. To close the segment, Peter Weishar, Dean of the College of Visual Arts, Theatre & Dance at FSU, will showcase the evolution of themed entertainment curricula at colleges around the country.  Speakers include Shirley Saldamarco of Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and James Oliverio of the Digital Worlds Institute at University of Florida.

Tommy Bridges of ATI (left) and Stephen Villet of Smart Monkeys.

Friday afternoon's Experience segment will offer three sessions, "Interactive Experiences" featuring Joe Garlington, "Designing Cultural Attractions" featuring James Anderson and Michael Dawson, and "Legends of Frontierland" featuring Cory Rouse.  Garlington led visioning for EPCOT on projects such as Test Track 2.0 and Turtle Talk with Crush. He also co-founded Art & Technology, Inc., a pioneering special effects company involved in the creation of museum, zoo and theme park experiences around the world. James Anderson is the Lead Creative Director and "Story-Teller-in-Chief" of Forrec, Ltd. and has worked for such clients as Nickelodeon, LEGO and Universal. Matt Dawson is Forrec's Director of Museums and Science Centres, and has leant his design expertise to a global portfolio of museum projects. Cory Rouse, Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering, has been with WDI since 2007 and has played an important role in the company’s Autonomatronics division. All of these esteemed speakers will answer the question of what it means to create a compelling guest experience.

Among the Experience speakers are Joe Garlington and Cory Rouse of Walt Disney Imagineering.

In addition to the two days of intense, thoughtful discussion, attendees will be able to enjoy some light-hearted moments, including a Welcome Reception at Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar, museum tours, a Dean’s reception at the Ca' d’Zan Terrace of Dreams, and a sunset visit to Joseph’s Coat Skyspace. Skyspace, created by James Turrell, is a contemplative space within the Ringling Museum that features LED lights that change at sunset, altering the visitor’s perception of the sky.

Ca' d'Zan at The Ringling. Image courtesy of The Ringling.

As in previous years, the TEA NextGen Committee is presenting a variety of activities for students and recent graduates at this year’s SATE. Wednesday evening, NextGen members are invited to Captain Curt’s in advance of the official reception to get to know each other before the conference begins. Saturday morning, NextGen members will “Meet the Masters” at New College of Florida’s stunning Charles Ringling Mansion. There they will enjoy coffee and conversation with the SATE Segment Chairs and Co-Chairs. The adrenaline gets turned up a notch in the afternoon, as the group makes its way to Busch Gardens Tampa for a ride on Falcon’s Fury followed by a panel discussion on the making of the attraction and the spectacular Pantopia Animal Show. After the show, NextGens have the option of heading back to Sarasota or, for a nominal fee, staying for the park’s popular Fright Feast and Howl-O-Scream. More information on these events will be distributed to NextGen SATE registrants and scholarship recipients tomorrow.

View from the Charles Ringling Mansion, host venue for "Meet the Masters".

Overall, SATE promises to be part networking opportunity, part educational seminar and all enrichment for attendees: “SATE ’14 is going to build on our experience last year in Savannah to create an even better conference for our attendees," says Co-Chair, Stefan Lawrence. "The Ringling is a spectacular and inspiring venue, and we plan on having two days of truly top-notch speakers from both in and outside of our industry. Plus we’ll have karaoke on Friday night. Can’t beat that.”

For more information on SATE, and to purchase tickets, please visit And be sure to stay tuned to the JRA blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed (#TEAsate) for all the latest news.

We’ll see you in Sarasota!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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Fall 2014 Conference World Tour Kickoff – The IAAPA Euro Attractions Show

September 18, 2014

A look at last year's EAS show floor in Berlin.  Photo courtesy IAAPA.

A look at last year's EAS show floor in Berlin. Photo courtesy IAAPA.

The leaves are turning, there’s a crispness in the air – it’s time to go to Amsterdam!

That’s right: “The JRA Conference World Tour – Fall 2014 Edition” begins with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Euro Attractions Show.  September 23-25, More than 8,500 industry professionals will converge on the Amsterdam RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, including 425 exhibitors from 33 countries showcasing over 100 products and services.  On the 10,000-square-meter show floor (the largest in EAS history), attendees can browse everything from 4D and 5D theatres to rides, design and fabrication consultants, water park equipment, and games.

As always, in addition to the show floor, EAS offers a variety of networking opportunities, including receptions, 20 hours of educational sessions and a variety of pre- and post-show tours, as well as the IAAPA Institute for Attractions Managers and the IAAPA Safety Institute.  Before the show, attendees will have the chance to experience the Netherlands’ beautiful Effteling theme park – the country’s largest – or explore Walibi Holland and Dolphinarium. EAS will open in grand fashion with Tuesday morning’s Opening Ceremony, featuring remarks from IAAPA President Mario Mamon and a look at what’s new in Europe in 2014, and Tuesday night’s Opening Reception at the Strand Zuid, featuring libations, Dutch food, and entertainment. Throughout the show, experts will offer sessions on such topics as technology, branding, crisis management, operations/facility planning, marketing/social media, and human resources, and young professionals, FECs and water park operators can enjoy forums designed especially for them. But the fun doesn’t end then the show officially closes. Post-tour ticketholders will explore some of Europe’s most unique attractions, including Phantasialand, Toverland, Burgers' Zoo and the Corpus Experience Check out the Conference and Trade Show Programme, and download the EAS app if you are planning to attend.

“The Euro Attractions Show is an excellent opportunity to share best practices and trends with colleagues and network with potential clients, all while enjoying the beautiful Netherlands scenery,” said Dan Schultz, JRA COO. “Based on the success we enjoyed at the Asian Attractions Expo, we look forward to another busy show.” 

Back by popular demand, JRA’s Chloe James Hausfeld will be documenting the presentations, parties and tours in her EAS journal, which we look forward to sharing with you after the show.  In the meantime, stay fixed on the JRA Facebook and Twitter feeds for real-time updates on all the goings-on, and if you’re at the Expo, visit us at Booth 8545. JRA is proud to serve as a Gold Sponsor of the Euro Attractions Show.

Throughout the fall, we’ll be traveling not only to Amsterdam but also to Sarasota, Raleigh and Cannes before finishing up with the granddaddy of them all, the 2014 IAAPA Expo in Orlando, Florida.  So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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MarvelMonday: The Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire

September 15, 2014

It's Clara, JRA Blogger-in-Chief here. Usually, we keep #MarvelMonday to our Facebook and Twitter channels, but I just couldn't contain all of the awesomeness I witnessed at this past weekend's 2nd Annual Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  For those unfamiliar, "Maker Faire" calls itself " the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement." The first official Maker Faire was produced by parent company Maker Media in San Mateo, California in 2013, and since then, dozens of large-scale Maker Faires and smaller, community-driven "Mini Maker Faires" have popped up all over the world, from Tokyo to Oslo to Cincy.  While these Faires showcase the latest and greatest, not all of the innovations are inherently technical, and low-tech and DIY demonstrations abound.

A Cincinnati Museum Center "bugbot"?

Obviously getting into the Halloween spirit early...

At the Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire, Over fifty creators showcased their wares over two days - everything from robots to 3D printing to an automated Barbie apartment (seriously). The Faire also offered a "Crafty Supermarket" - a haven of handmade items, including soaps, jewelry, and, as you can see above, a very funky DJ booth.  And the audience wasn't just passively observing - they were driving robots, assembling circuits and even learning to solder.  Pop-up fashion shops, brewing demonstrations, electrics workshops, puppetry, a LEGO assembly studio and even a "Power Tool Drag Race" entertained and educated attendees both inside and outside the museum.  Here were a few of my favorite things:

Matt Luken demonstrates Happen Inc.'s 3D printer.

Happen, Inc.'s Personalized 3D Prints - Ever wanted to have a 3D-printed bust of your head?  You can do that at Happen, Inc., a local art studio where parents and kids can create art together.  Guests can reserve a time in Happen's "Toy Lab" to have a digital scan made of their face.  The scan is then inputted into the printer, and about six hours later, it becomes a 3D plastic portrait!

Mad Knitting

Mad Knitting Lab - The crazy machine you see above is actually an electronic knitting machine circa 1985.  Originally, the knitter would plug a floppy disc reader into the machine.  An onboard computer would read the floppy disc and tell the machine where to move the needles.  Then the knitter would hand knit back and forth across the machine.  Shop owner Andrea Zehner has "hacked" the machine so that it will read from a laptop (this involved creating a special cabling system, since the 30-year-old knitting machine obviously doesn't have a USB port!).  The laptop, which runs a customized software program, "tricks" the onboard computer into thinking it is reading a floppy disc. Andrea still knits back and forth, and a pillow with a custom knitted photo-portrait of your dog, child or logo is born.


The Manufactory - Ever wanted to learn how to weld?  What about woodworking, rabbit laser-cutting or even basic embroidery? Cincinnati's The Manufactory offers classes in all of these subjects and much more for a daily, monthly, or yearly membership fee. They also offer shared space and tools for Cincinnati's makers.  One of those makers, Gordon Edelheit, showed me his creation,  All I had to do is push a button and smile, and the SelfiPic snapped my photo with a custom Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire border and uploaded it to its Facebook page.  I typed in my phone number, and it immediately sent the Facebook photo link to my phone. With its compact design and themed entertainment relevance, I wouldn't be surprised if we see SelfiPic at a future IAAPA Expo.

The Stingray 6 - Photo Credit:

As I was heading out, I happened to chat with Joe Toth of Zion 3D printers.  I wanted to learn about his compact printer, discover what inspired him to be a maker, and ask what he thought was behind the Maker Movement.  The Stingray 6 (so called because it has a 6"x6"x6" usuable area), costs $850 as a kit or $999 fully assembled and can print on everything from PLA plastics to tea glass. Later this year, the company plans to unveil its Stingray 8 and Stingray 16 via a Kickstarter campaign.

Joe largely got into the maker game by accident (his friend had the idea but needed someone with fabrication skills to implement it), but was thrilled to be at his first maker faire and said the attendees came with great questions.  He credits the maker revolution to the plethora of tools and maker spaces available, as well as cheaper, faster software. "Even just five years ago, makers like drone manufacturers would have to make their drones via induction molding, which was extremely expensive, and even basic software was financially out of reach for the average hobbyist," said Toth.  "Now, makers can create in a maker space with 3D printed plastics and laser cut acrylic.  The tools are getting better so smaller companies can make better parts."

So I had my photos, I had my interview, but there was one thing missing from my geek-tastic experience...


...perfect.  :-)

Congrats to our friends at the Museum Center and all the folks at Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire who made the event a success. Tune in Thursday, as we travel from Cincinnati to Amsterdam to preview the 2014 Euro Attractions Show!




Tags: Outside the Studio

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The Future is Wow: Theme Park Drones Take Flight

September 11, 2014

The Mouse is changing the themed entertainment game again.  Or is he?

As reported in news outlets throughout the world, Disney Enterprises recently published its 2013 patent applications for three different drone technologies. The first, which could affectionately be called the “Geppetto” drone, involves a marionette with “articulatable appendages” supported from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by tether lines.  The second consists of a multitude of UAVs positioning a flexible projection screen in the air.  And the third is a system for UAVs to provide a synchronized aerial display with floating pixels (‘or flixels’).” Think of a fireworks show comprised of drones with lights instead of pyrotechnics.

"Geppetto" drone. Image source: Patentdocs.

For these patents, Disney Enterprises has literally drawn on necessity as the mother of invention.  For example, they argue that fireworks, in addition to being a safety hazard, are unpredictable, making it hard to create a repeatable show.  Projection shows on water screens or fountains are limited by how far the water can reach.  And aircraft-based displays (such as blimps dragging banners) are limited in size and the availability of necessary equipment.  According to the patent application, “the inventors recognized that presently there are no mechanisms for creating very large aerials such as a display that is reusable/repeatable, dynamic and interactive.”

Projection screen drone. Image source: Patentdocs.

But before we dive into the pros, cons and limitations of Disney’s plans, let’s take a step back and define what a drone is, learn how its been used so far, and discover how others may have already beaten Disney to the drone punch.

What is a Drone, and How Are They Used?

The FAA would prefer that we use the term “unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)” or “remotely piloted aircraft”. (But we don’t work for the FAA, so for the purposes of this blog post, we’ll use the term “drone”.)  A drone is an aircraft controlled by computers or an external operator on the ground.  Historically, they have been used in areas “too dull, dirty or dangerous” for manned aircraft and have been primarily employed by the military.  The concept of a drone dates back to the mid-1800s, but the drones we think of today were developed in the 1900s for military target practice, and they have been used in various conflicts throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Currently, the military and the CIA operate two separate permanent drone programs, the former housed only where troops are stationed and the latter in more clandestine, extra-military areas. In addition to the US, over 50 countries employ drones for military and civic uses.

But drones are more than just war machines.  In CNN’s article, “15 Ways Drones Will Change Your Life”, the news outlet outlines the more pacifist and humanitarian uses of drones both now and in the future.  Drones can and plan to be applied to such diverse areas as search and rescue, crops surveying, shepherding, animal conservation (i.e., monitoring poaching), delivering medical supplies to remote regions, forest fire detection and disaster relief.  MIT is even using drones as guides to help Harvard students maneuver its meandering campus. And drones equipped with GoPros are opening new avenues for photography and filmography.

The American Alliance of Museums chronicled potential cultural uses for drones in its 2014 Trendswatch report and demonstrated drone technology live at its 2014 Annual Museum and MuseumExpo.  According to Trendswatch editor Elizabeth Merrill, these aerial vehicles could help document the condition of historic and heritage buildings, giving patrons an unprecedented view inside and outside these institutions.  Our neighbors at the Cincinnati Museum Center tested that theory, producing a “Union Terminal From the Air” video in anticipation of its Save the Icons levy campaign. In addition to documenting building conditions, with their ability to reach into previously unreachable places, drones have the potential to provide glimpses into such remote areas as archeological sites, archival artwork collections, and zoological habitats (“National Zoo Panda Drone”, anyone?).

Drones as Big Business

But according to a recent BI Intelligence report, “12% of an estimated $98 million in cumulative global spending on aerial drones over the next decade will be for commercial purposes.”  Technology juggernauts Amazon and Google are already poised to be first in line for a slice of the drone pie.  As a 2013 New York Times article quipped, “Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Chief Executive, is planning to take what looks like a barbecue grill, attach eight propellers and a basket to it and use it to deliver small items to people’s houses.”  Bezos claims that the Amazon Prime Air “octo-copter” could one day deliver packages up to 5 pounds to customers within a ten-mile radius of a delivery center in about a half an hour. Amazon’s website boasts that one day Prime Air vehicles will be as ubiquitous as mail trucks.

Amazon Prime Air.  Image source:

Meanwhile, Google is developing Project Wing, with a focus on delivering goods to remote areas.  Astro Teller, director of Google X, the company’s research wing, told The Atlantic, “What excited us from the beginning is that if the right thing could find anybody just in the moment that they need it, the world might be a radically different place.” Their drone flies at an altitude of 130 to 200 feet.  It uses its rotors to take off, land and hover vertically, but it rotates 90 to fly horizontally. When it reaches its target destination, it lowers its payload down on a tether.  A sensor goes down with the payload so that the craft knows when to let down and lift the line.  Google has stressed that the Wing is in Beta and not a final product.  Further studies need to be done to assess how the Wing operates around possible obstructions, but at first blush, experts say its design makes it potentially faster and capable of longer ranges than Prime Air.

Future Possibilities, Current Limitations

Amazon’s website also claimed, “we’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place.”  Those regulations have proven to be the biggest obstacle, and they could make Disney a latecomer to the drone party.  Disney’s use of drones is currently prohibited by the FAA.  The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 sets a deadline of September 30, 2015 for the agency to establish regulations allowing for commercial drone use (the FAA currently requires non-recreational drone users to be sponsored by a public entity like a university or non-profit research association).  Even if the FAA achieves the 2015 deadline, successfully implementing the regulations could take several more years.  In the face of increasing criticism from the journalism and motion picture industries, the FAA agreed in August 2013 to grant licenses on a case-by-case basis, but according to a recent Forbes article, in the short term those licenses will most likely be given to commercial applications of existing drone technologies, and not the new technologies laid out in Disney’s patents.

Neopter.  Image source: Puy du Fou

In the meantime, Disney’s overseas competition is taking full advantage of fewer bureaucratic hurdles.  French theme park Puy Du Fou unveiled its Neopter drone on August 29 as part of Cinéscénie®, the park’s elaborate nighttime spectacle.  Developed by the park and Belgian company ACT Lighting Design, the Neopter is the first drone able to simultaneously fly within an aerial fleet without any intervention. Using GPS to locate itself in the air autonomously, it can perform synchronized choreography either in the air or immersed in water and can even operate in strenuous wind conditions. Each Neopter can carry a load of up to 6.6 pounds (3 kg), making a fleet capable of carrying sound, video, lighting, or sceneography (e.g., pyrotechnics). According to the Puy du Fou press release, this combination of nimbleness and hauling capability enables the Neopter to be both a “leading actor” and a “scenic carrier”.  ACT Lighting Design and Puy du Fou spent 12 months in development before being approved by the General Department of French Aviation.  They plan to deploy 50 drones in the coming months and market the Neopter to live shows around the world.  By having a marketable finished product in a country with freer UAV regulations, Puy du Fou and ACT have leapfrogged over Disney to become drone technology pioneers.

Despite Puy du Fou’s success, many questions remain about the use of drone technology.  One need only remember the “Miracle on the Hudson” to understand that something as innocent as a bird can bring down a large aircraft.  A single accident involving a drone crashing into a building, hitting a plane or dropping an object on a person below could cause a firestorm of negative publicity.  Privacy issues are another concern: nine US states have already passed laws restricting private and law enforcement drone use.  As UW law professor Ryan Calo shares in the CNN article, “drones make surveillance cheaper and easier, and when you do that, you can expect to see a lot more of it.” To many, drones are just another vehicle for Big Brother’s watchful eye.  And then there’s the practicality of it.  As one critic points out, how do you deliver something to an apartment dweller with no balcony or roof access in a skyscraper-laden city like New York or LA?

For supporters of drones, the technology means an avenue of opportunity, one that the United States is poised to see pass by: “the USA is losing $10 billion in potential economic impact for every year the FAA delays,” Gretchen West, Executive Vice President of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, tells CNN.  But for those able to explore this technology to its fullest, the possibilities for industries such as themed entertainment could be as limitless as the sky itself.

"Flixel" drone. Image source: Patentdocs.

Tags: Blog N Learn , Outside the Studio

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