5 Coolest Walt Disney World Technologies and “Innoventions”

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Disney’s Theme Parks and Resorts are home to some pretty amazing technology. Usually, it’s tied up so neatly in a story that we don’t even realize the genius we’re experiencing. Here are five of the most brilliant and innovative technologies and “innoventions” inside my personal favorite park, Walk Disney World.

1. Expedition Everest’s Track

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExpedition Everest in Animal Kingdom is the world’s first roller coaster to not drive its passengers absolutely insane with the clicking noise of the eminent ascent to the ride’s peak. In fact, the clickity noise is entirely absent from the experience altogether. Huzzah!

The standard anti-rollback system has kept us all alive on roller coasters of yore by catching the car at inches-apart intervals to prevent the train from rolling backward and inevitably killing us all. So, I guess the irritating noise is more than justified. But on the Expedition Everest, the train rides along just above the sawtooth-like anti-rollback brake that would otherwise click at you emphatically. If it begins to slow its upward movement (no bueno) the ride forces the train down into the brakes.

Why this upgrade? Well, Imagineers say it basically just sucked. More specifically, it  was “an unacceptable diversion from the ride’s Himalayan theme.” So, yeah, it just sucked. 

2. The Soarin’ Giant Erector Set

imagine01Soarin’, new to Epcot’s Living With The Land in Disney World just nine– Wait, seriously? NINE years ago?!

The Disneyland original is simple in concept and downright outlandish in design. 87 guests at a time are lifted in the air on a what is basically a giant claw to ride a simulated trip across California’s most gorgeous locations that are projected, wind-simulated, and smellerized (sure, let’s call that a word) onto an IMAX screen that, it turns out, is closer to your face than we realize.

The contraption is one of Disney’s greatest innovations. Mark Sumner actually overcame prohibitive expenses for early attempts at the machinery by building a model with an Erector Set and string, lol. This messiah of Imagineers successfully engineered what is now a giant, industrial Erector Set of fun, which is essentially a cantilever and ski lifts that look and feel more like God’s arm.

3. Lights, Motors, Action!

Explosive Finale 2010Now I don’t want to ruin the magic, so if you prefer to stay in the dark about how the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show does it, turn back now or forever enter the arches of Hollywood Studios sullen.

During the show, we see a whole caboodle of bizarre stuff happen on the stage and at the end, our hosts graciously explain things like how backwards-maneuvering drivers are able to keep up. (Spoiler alert: The driver faces out the rear.) But what about the car that splits in half like the piece of cake I always swear I’m not going to finish? (Spoiler alert: I always eat the other half.)

The halfsies car is held together with, wait for it…. magnets! The interior is largely hollow except for the driver’s personal space and the halves detach when the driver throws a lever to switch the magnets’ positions. Then, pyro trays on the roof EXPLODE and the driver walks away like nothing happened. Awesome.

4. Turtle Talk with Crush

turtle-talk-with-crush-00Turtle Talk with Crush at the Living Seas pavilion inside Epcot has something rare: a live-to-air cartoon. What’s that mean? It means you can talk to and interact with Crush, the animated turtle featured in “Finding Nemo”.

Note: This same technology is also used in the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor in Magic Kingdom, but Crush gets all the press because he’s younger and sexier. (Turn back now to avoid MAGIC SPOILERS!)

The animated character is able to interact in real time because a performer is operating an avatar backstage. This performer is hearing, seeing and experiencing everything the character would, and so he or she can answer appropriately when guests communicate with or try to touch Crush. It’s both alarming and magical.

5. Epcot’s Greenhouses

epcot_theland1Epcot’s Living With The Land is home to 2.5 million square feet of greenhouse space. The greenhouses provide much of the food consumed in Epcot and function as research centers to boot. Inside, the crops are grown using a horticultural technology invented in the 18th century, called Hydroponics. A quality of Imagineers has always been their humble acceptance that old technology is sometimes the best technology.

Hydroponics is a method that uses mineral nutrient water to grow plants by housing roots in lieu of soil. Disney’s agricultural researchers are always looking for answers to the world’s hunger problem. But more importantly, they have Mickey Mouse-shaped vegetables.

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