Walt Disney Imagineering

National Inventors Day Highlights Amazing Disney Inventions

It’s National Inventors Day, and did you know that Imagineers are inventors themselves? Imagineer Lanny Smoot recently wowed with his inventions and creations as he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Here’s a special look at some Walt Disney Imagineering inventions that helped shape the future at Disney Experiences!

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First we look at Audio-Animatronics. At the heart of Disney’s inventive journey lies the revolutionary Audio-Animatronics technology. They were introduced in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland in 1963. These lifelike figures changed the course of Disney Parks. They can now be found in so many Disney Parks attractions around the world like Frozen EverAfter, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the nearly 10-foot tall Ana”vi Shaman of Songs figure at Pandora – The World or Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The creation of each Audio-Animatronics figure requires the collaboration of dozens of Imagineering disciplines, including Mechanical Engineering, Show Programming, Illusion Integration and Figure Finishing, representing the seamless fusion of technology and art. As the technology evolves, Audio-Animatronics figures offer the opportunity for unparalleled realism and transportation to magical realms.

Up next is the OmniCoaster ride system. We all are familiar with the Omnimover system that was first used at Adventure Thru inner Space at Disneyland in 1967, and continues to be used on attractions such as Haunted Mansion and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. The Omnimover was first developed by Roger Broggie and Bert Brundage for WED Enterprises, and was awarded a patent in 1968.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind marked a milestone with the introduction of the Disney Omnicoaster ride system. This revolutionary “storytelling coaster was designed by Walt Disney Imagineering Ride Engineers. This innovative technology enables vehicles to rotate 360 degrees and execute a reverse launch, creating an immersive experience for guests.

It’s been such a hit at Walt Disney World, that the attraction was even awarded with a prestigious Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement- Attraction in 2024 by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA).

Stuntronics is one of the latest innovations at Walt Disney Imagineering. Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development and scientists at Disney Research have taken flight to new heights with Stuntronics, a fusion of advanced robotics and dynamic movement that is capable of accomplishing extreme aerial maneuvers with precision.

The idea originated with Imagineers wanting to create a dynamic controllable robotic system that mimicked the uncontrollability of flight. The team worked through numerous iterations and prototypes, resulting in a sophisticated 90-pound Stuntronics figure equipped with onboard sensors, enabling real-time decision-making during an 85-foot aerial performance, capturing the nuances of Spider-Man’s acrobatics, from somersaults and twists to perfectly executed landings. You can see Stuntronics in action everyday in Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure during The Amazing Spider-Man Show.

Free-roaming robotics characters are the next invention that Imagineers worked on. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is home to the fusion of cutting-edge special effects, groundbreaking attraction technology and timeless Disney storytelling. Playtest droids were recently showcased, and featured the latest in robotics and engineering, while navigating park environments alongside a Batuuan droid handler.

To create these “BD units,” engineers and animators within Imagineering and Disney Live Entertainment worked together to craft a relatable character, whose movements and expressions resemble those of small children. The robots learn expressive motions through simulation environments, allowing them to quickly come to life, achieving a seamless blend of advanced technology and artistic craftsmanship.

Finally, we have Indestructible Robots. At the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in 2023, Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro, with the help of Imagineers from Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, unveiled an innovative prototype robot capable of dynamic maneuvers, including somersaults and recovering from falls … which is not what people expect from a robot.

What makes Indestructibles unique is that Imagineers designed the robots with a keen focus on fostering human connection. These robots are crafted to convey personality through their dynamic movements, allowing Imagineers to explore captivating and emotionally resonant performances. This groundbreaking technology promises to push the boundaries of character experiences, adding an extra layer of realism to Disney storytelling.

During the recent grand opening of Zootopia at Shanghai Disney Resort, Josh D’Amaro introduced Duke Weaselton, a dynamic robotic character capable of expressive movements and speech. Duke represents the latest advancement in robotic technology by Walt Disney Imagineering R&D and Disney Research. With expressive animated faces and newfound speech abilities, Duke was seamlessly integrated into a stage show, showcasing Disney’s commitment to elevating storytelling through groundbreaking technological innovations.

As we celebrate National Inventors Day, we applaud the boundless spirit of innovation at Walt Disney Imagineering, where creativity knows no limits, and the magic continues to evolve for future generations of guests.