Feeling Fireworks Still Missing from Disney Parks

Disney Parks around the world have mastered the art of story-telling through fireworks spectaculars, but some guests still can’t get the full experience because of their visual impairments. In 2017, Disney’s research division created a technology that, through the power of touch, has helped blind beta-testers say things like, “Now I know why people like fireworks.” But why hasn’t this magic-enhancing invention, called feeling fireworks, shown up in any Disney parks yet?

A user interacting with the Feeling Fireworks display from research paper by Reusser, Knoop, Siegwart & Beardsley

How does it work?

Looking at how the system works provides some clues to the mystery. The feeling fireworks technology streams water with a variety of nozzles onto a latex screen for blind guests to touch. Imagineers could program an Arduino (an easy-to-use electrical engineering controller) to create a variety of fireworks by adjusting the nozzles, timing and pressure of the water flow.

The preliminary system has three nozzles for creating rockets and explosions, a shower-like nozzle for a crackling effect, and a specialized nozzle to achieve the classic expanding firework effect.

A rear projection system behind the latex screen displays what the fireworks look like and a Kinect detects the user’s movements. These additions can make interacting with the fireworks more inclusive for sighted guests, so blind individuals don’t have to feel like they have a completely separate and different experience.

Problem of Precision

The system is simple enough and has received positive reviews, according to the research team’s papers. One reason the feeling fireworks aren’t more widespread could be that Disney is still working on refining the precision of the nozzles to create their special shapes of fireworks.

Three different fireworks effects created by different nozzles
Three different fireworks effects created by different nozzles

When a small group of sighted individuals tried to label 10 different combinations of the nozzles’ effects by touch, they mixed some up. Even after thirty seconds of feeling the firework, these individuals couldn’t tell the difference between a willow-tree like firework and an explosion followed by a crackling effect. And Disney’s nighttime spectaculars like Happily Ever After have way more than 10 kinds of fireworks, ranging from Toy Story toy blocks to the heart of Te Fiti symbol from Moana.

Additionally, there’s probably some more work to be done to precisely synchronize the felt fireworks with a computer-programmed show like Happily Ever After, which the system hasn’t been tested with as of the 2019 publication. So, Disney might still be working out how to reliably and recognizably produce some of their signature effects.

Practically Perfect?

But at a more practical scale, Disney might not have worked out the kinks of how to make this readily available for guests in the parks. The prototype described in the research papers and demonstrated here only seems to work for one person at a time. The self-contained system is on wheels and only requires one power cord to operate but I can’t imagine this being easily rolled out onto a packed Main Street USA every night. Instead, it might work better at a resort with fireworks views, either in a guest’s room or in a public viewing area, which might not be ideal.

Hopefully, the research team is continuing to test modifications to the various effects with blind and sighted users alike to implement the experience in the near future. Then, more blind youth and adults can not only feel fireworks but also the profound emotions that go along with feeling included.

Would you want to try out this feeling fireworks technology for yourself?

Sources

Feeling Fireworks 2019 Paper by D. Reusser, E. Knoop, R. Siegwart, & P. Beardsley

Feeling Fireworks 2017 Paper by D. Reusser, E. Knoop, R. Siegwart, & P. Beardsley

Feeling Fireworks by Disney Research

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