September 16, 2023, 3:33 PM ·

When you visit a theme park, how much do you want to decide what to do, versus being told where to go?

Universal has filed a patent application for an ambitious crowd control system that would give Universal the ability to direct individual visitors around their theme parks through the use of wireless devices. Yes, all major parks do this to some extend already via their mobile apps. But instead of just telling visitors wait times around the park and hoping that they take the hint, Universal’s proposed system would provide direct instructions to individual visitors and could even require them to do attractions in a particular order.The application was published Thursday and is entitled, “System and Method for Crowd Management and Maintenance Operations.” Here is the direct link to view the entire application yourself.Like many patent applications, this proposal reflects a cumulation of several iterative changes over what’s already happening in the parks. Indeed, the application explicitly continues several previous Universal patent applications. The idea, ultimately, is for a park to be able to move its guests around like pieces on a chessboard, distributing them evenly around the park so that they all can experience as much as possible with as little wait time as necessary. This also would allow the park to distribute its personnel and capital resources in response to that guest flow with peak efficiency, as well.
An illustration from Universal’s patent applicationExperienced theme park visitors have the ability to do much of this themselves. They know to hit popular attractions early, before lines grow, then move over to shorter queues later in the day. A system such as the one Universal proposes can help new park visitors move around like more experienced guests.Universal’s patent application references wearable devices as the way that people will get messages and guidance from the central controller, but it notes that guests could use their own mobile devices, presumably phones and Apple Watches, as well.

The application builds upon much of Universal already has done with its current wearable devices: Volcano Bay’s TapuTapu and Super Nintendo World’s Power Up Bands. TapuTapu already supports virtual queuing with wireless notification. The Power Up Band supports requiring guests to complete designated tasks before being admitted to an attraction. In this case, guests must win four games in the Nintendo-themed land before they can enter the Bowser Jr. boss battle game.The proposed system would determine when an attraction or area is becoming overloaded, then it would message guests in or near that area to go to another location. It could suggest an order in which people experience specific attraction in an area to ease guest flow for all. And it could limit admission to a location to people who already have experienced the less-crowded alternatives.Now a system such as this requires a certain level of cooperation from visitors to work efficiently. If people do not use the wearables or pay attention to their phones, or if they simply ignore the messages that they receive, they won’t move around in the way that the system wants. Shorter wait times are one incentive to comply, but guests have to believe that they actually will enjoy those shorter waits if they play along. Requiring compliance to get into popular rides might be more effective.Then there remains the question of how such as system would work with Universal Express. Does this exist alongside a paid line-skip program, or does something like this become a future version of, or platform for, a line-skipping system?One way or another, popular theme parks continue to look for ways to manage their crowds better, whether it is by limiting them through higher prices or advance reservation requirements or by distributing them inside the park via some technology, such as what Universal has proposed here.* * *
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