The Walt Disney Company is looking to expand the entertainment it offers at its Disneyland theme parks worldwide by embracing high-tech displays powered by flying drones.
Remember the magical scene in Tangled (Disney's take on Rapunzel), which features thousands of lanterns floating together in the night sky?
Disney wants to expand that concept by having flying helicopter drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) support floating puppets and projection screens in mid-air, according to new patents filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The company also wants to create a synchronised aerial light display consisting of "floating pixels" – an effect created by a multitude of drones flying in the air together, each carrying a miniature lighting system that is controlled remotely.
"In the entertainment industry, there are many applications where it is desirable to provide an aerial display. For example, an amusement park may have a lagoon or other open space over which it is desired to present a display to entertain visitors," Disney writes in the aerial light display patent application.
"In another example, massively large aerial displays may be presented at sport stadiums or other venues to celebrate holidays such as New Year's Day throughout the world and the 4th of July in the United States."
Disney said its reason for switching to drones is to have a bigger variety of aerial shows. At the moment, most of its aerial shows make use of fireworks, which it says are "dangerous to implement" and produce unpredictable results.
The company said it has also tried making aerial displays using complex water fountains and lights spraying water in special patterns, but says that water aerial shows are limited by the height that water can be sprayed to, and it is hard to modify the patterns to make a new show.
With the floating projection screens patent, Disney wrote that it was inspired by the huge Symphony of Lights synchronised light, laser and music multimedia display in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, which makes use of the exteriors of 44 buildings and has attracted four million visitors to the 10 minute show held daily.
The Success of the Symphony of Lights show is down to the tall buildings it can use to project the lights onto, but Disney says if it could have floating projection screens, then it could put on a light show anywhere and not be limited to projecting near a tall building.
Disney wants to have a ground control station that will control and choreograph the movements of the drones and send pre-determined flight plans to each UAV, or control them together as a whole flock.
For the puppets, they would be supported by hard rods and wires and then held up in the air by a drone above the puppet and another drone beneath the puppet.
At the moment, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is just starting to trial the use of drones for commercial purposes, albeit extremely reluctantly, following the collapse of a six-year-long ban forbidding the use of drones completely due to safety reasons.
However, it could take a long time for Disney to get approval for its ambitious ideas, as although BP has been allowed to use flying helicopter drones to survey pipelines and roads in Alaska, the FAA now wants to enforce policy forbidding people from using drones for most commercial purposes, such as delivering packages for a fee (which scarpers Amazon's PrimeAir dreams), or for the purpose of creating aerial photographs or videos for sale either.