Hoping for more information to emerge about the rumored NextGen / Personal Experience Portal project, I was fascinated to see an article in the Los Angeles Times today about Precision Dynamics Corp. The California company was founded fifty years ago to manufacture wristbands for hospital patients, but has found success in recent years creating RFID bands for amusement parks and attractions.
Using the new technology, the article says, the wristbands can be used as “high-security admission passes, cashless debit cards, hotel room keys and a form of identification to reunite lost children with parents.” These are all possible uses that have been mentioned for Disney’s “X-Band” program as well. The Precision Dynamics wristbands broadcast a unique 16-character code when triggered by a reader, which then uses the code to serve as an access key for debit accounts or electronic door locks. In Disney’s plan, it could also be used to access pre-recorded guest information to enable interactive features within the parks themselves.
It’s unknown whether Disney is working with Precision Dynamics or developing a technology of their own, but as Precision Dynamics holds a patent on their design it’s unsure how much leeway Disney would have in duplicating the idea. Disney’s interest in the technology is understandable; the Times article points out that guests using wristbands tend to spend up to 25% more at parks and resorts due to the ease (and, one assumes, the “Monopoly money” factor) of cashless transactions. The RFID chips are programmable, allowing guests to add amounts to their families’ wristbands at kiosks throughout the park.
The article underlines a few concerns about the technology as it stands now. The first is cost; RFID wristbands sell for $1 apiece, while the computerized readers cost $450. While this would obviously be small change for Disney, it would require a substantial initial outlay if they were to roll out the technology across all the resorts. One suspects that the cost of the wristband would be passed along to the consumer, which would only add to already-steep admission fees.
Privacy concerns are also a critical issue when this technology is discussed. The general public might not yet be aware of RFID, but the privacy and tech-savvy communities have had their eye on it for years. Precision Dynamics says that the wristbands must pass within inches of a reader to be activated, and that they’re programmed to expire after a single day’s use. RFID advocates say the technology is secure, but no doubt Disney would want to rigorously test this rather than risk turning Walt Disney World into a global magnet for “haxors” and scam artists.
Disney isn’t mentioned in the article, so it’s mere speculation to connect the Precision Dynamics wristbands with Disney’s own plans. Still, it gives a glimpse into what this technology is being used for now, and what direction Disney might go in the future.