Harry Potter’s Interactive Wands: Experiential Tech at Theme Parks

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Monday, April 13th, 2015

Interactive Harry Potter Wands

Could theme parks be the place where technology and magic truly intersect? Often, tech-related discussions focus on the latest themed app, a touch screen, or in-ride developments. But Universal Studios Florida has recently been recognized by the Themed Entertainment Association’s Thea Awards for their outstanding achievements in technology for the development of the interactive Harry Potter wands. And we’re excited about the wands, because they are a beautiful example of how theme parks can use technology to bridge the gap between story and experience in themed attractions.

With the launch of Diagon Alley, Universal wanted to find a new way to draw guests into the environment. Creating a level of interactivity that played to guests’ sense of magic was a natural fit. The interactive wands allow users to interact with the Harry Potter world, cast spells, and produce effects. Effects range from dramatic to subtle; examples include lighting a lantern, triggering a water fountain, or animating a window display in one of the Harry Potter-themed shops. The wands work in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

Interactive Wand - Universal Studios Florida

Universal began to retail replica wands in 2010 with the opening of Hogsmeade, but the addition of interactive features has taken this fan-favorite to the next level. The interactive wands cost about $10 more than the replica wands and are distinguished from the “regular” wands in a couple of ways. They’re slightly thicker and they have a small half-sphere or bead at the wand’s tip. The sphere houses the sensor technology that triggers the effects.

Each of the areas where an effect takes place is marked by a gold medallion in the ground. Guests are also given a park map highlighting effect locations when they purchase the interactive wands. The medallions feature instructions about the specific motions guests need to complete with the wand, as well as a “magical phrase” that they should say along with it. (We’re not sure the phrases do anything, except add another level of fun!) All guests have to do is point the tip of their wands at cameras hidden around the park. The cameras register the “bead” at the end of the wand. Once guests successfully make the prescribed motion, they get to enjoy the result. Diagon Alley currently has 16 locations and the Hogsmeade area has nine. It’s unknown whether more will be added in the future but seems likely.

Interactive Wand Effects

The technology itself seems to be an infrared sensor system. The reflective bead at the end of the wand is pointed at the embedded sensor. Guests need to make a specific two or three part motion. Once they get it right, the sensor reads the motion and the effect kicks into gear.

As the THEA committee summed it up, “Within the land is a surprising array of innovative, interactive wand experiences that allow guests to say a spell, gesture their wand a specific way to accompany that spell and watch – if they get it right! – as the results of their magic are seen in display windows, on the streets of Diagon Alley, in magical illusions and more throughout the environment. The uniquely devised and ingeniously applied, proprietary wand technology is the key. The end result is an ‘invisible’ technology that engages guests and activates the land in a whole new way. The Thea Nominating Committee found this to be an impressive technology, impressively used.”

Gold Medallions - Harry Potter Interactive Wands

It’s easy to get lost in the dizzying technology that drives the wands. But even the retail experience of purchasing one is part of the story. To purchase a wand, guests can visit multiple locations – but the best is Ollivander’s Wand Shop. At regular intervals, the staff there puts on an interactive show where a guest is “chosen by a wand” a la the Harry Potter universe. Beyond that, guests can choose the wands that appeal to them.

From start to finish, the interactive wand technology offers park visitors something truly unique. In the theme park environment, there’s so much focus on the rides themselves. When a park introduces another layer of theming through queues or even themed retail, it adds authenticity and immersion. But creatively designing options that engage and delight between rides is something that’s rarer still. The Harry Potter environment lends itself well to this particular form of technology. We’re hopeful that this groundbreaking technology signals the level of innovation and creativity that we can expect to see in connection with other attractions in the years ahead.

 Images sourced courtesy of Attractions, Lockerdome, Slashfilm, YouTube

2 responses to “Harry Potter’s Interactive Wands: Experiential Tech at Theme Parks”

  1. Heather says:

    Is there any chatter about giving the interactive wands other uses after leaving the park, such as the development of a game, or an app? I was just there and can agree that the wand experience is a wonder to behold, but with the cost being a little steep, especially for a family with multiple kids, it would help to justify the cost if there were more uses for the wand after leaving the wizarding world.

  2. Kam says:

    I agree A 100% about the wizard wands.vThey should just make a Harry potter place alone in NJ

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