Disney is developing a new system that scans the shoes of visitors to its theme parks in order to track how people move around attractions in order to provide them with a personalised experience.
A new patent granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office describes a foot recognition system that uses a sensor and a camera to map a guest's feet when they enter the park. The data on the user's shoes can be used to uniquely identify each visitor, and after tracking the guest as they walk around the park, the next time they return, Disney can offer the user a customised experience based on where they went the day before.
The system includes an "acquisition station" – basically a fixed structure containing a computer that visitors go up to on entering the park. The guest places their feet under a low hanging shelf and the system scans their shoes, creates a 3D model and then sends the data to a server.
The next time the visitor returns to the parks, they visit the "reacquisition station", which scans their feet and pulls up records of their previous visit to provide a plan tailored by Disney to the guest's tastes (such as their favourite Disney characters and rides) that appears on a touchscreen that the user can also navigate using a keyboard and mouse or joystick.
In addition to the stations at the park's entrance that scan the visitors' shoes, the system also describes a robot that will go around the park and scan users' feet as they progress through the attractions to gather customer data about the popularity of different areas of the park.
So why feet? Disney explains in the patent that people are less likely to change their shoes while they're visiting an amusement park, although they might change their sunglasses, hats, clothes and jackets. Also, because feet are rarely obscured, it would be much easier to track a user by their feet as they walk around the park.
This is not the first time that Disney has tracked visitors to figure out how they use the park and make the experience simpler. The entertainment giant already utilises MyMagic+ wearable wristbands containing RFID chips which serve as hotel room keys, admission tickets and can even be linked to debit or credit cards so people can tap to pay for items instantly.
The wristbands were introduced in 2014 and cost $1bn (£760m) to deploy, but the wristbands are optional for Disney parks visitors, and it is not clear whether the foot scanning procedure would be.
Should such a system be considered to be invading a guest's privacy? Well, perhaps, but if you're walking around Disney park, which primarily exists to make money, you would expect to be tracked in some way. Also, what can you do with data about a person's shoes? Not a great deal.