What the Internet of Things Might Mean for Theme Parks, Museums, and Other Fun Places

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Disney's MyMagic Band

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an intriguing idea. Basically, the concept goes like this: as more and more people use mobile devices and wearable technology, each person will walk around with a variety of sensors and beacons that throw off signals. This creates the opportunity to invent an environment that reacts to those signals in a highly personalized way. The world around us becomes more intelligent as the capabilities of the internet to reflect and react to data move off of our laptops and tablets and into our floors, furniture, walls, and every other manmade object in our environment.

There are many different applications of the IoT already underway. Previously, we’ve discussed the idea of the smart city where people’s entire living experience becomes optimized to their needs and desires. Commercial applications are popping up as pilots and test cases. For example, using technology such as low energy Bluetooth beacons, systems are able to send customized information straight to an app you download on your phone. Bluetooth beacons are both inexpensive and gentle on cell phone battery usage, so they’re proving a popular option.

Museum of Future Government Services

Imagine you’re in a store, and you’re wandering around the shoe section trying on different pairs of boots and heels. The system knows this, and can send you targeted content on how to find the best fit for a boot in your size; a video interview with the shoe designer of the pair you’re looking at; or even a discount coupon that’s good if you buy shoes during your current store visit.

What’s really exciting about both location-based technologies and the idea that sensory data can be collected and influence our environment is how it can be used to help theme parks and museums offer better guest experiences. Many experts argue that technology has changed our relationship to cultural institutions. In particular, it’s possible to view online collections from around the world with ease; some feel that this encourages people to stay at the computer and skip a visit to the actual museum. But museums and other cultural attractions have a physical component that can’t totally be replicated by virtual tools. A recent study of museum-goer desires highlighted peoples’ desires to interact with physical collections and experience different physical environments.

Smart Cities

So how can location-aware technologies and the Internet of Things transform the museum and theme park visitor experience?

Spotzer is one company that’s serving up the future of the museum experience. According to their site, “Spotzer powers interactive, socially engaging, and context-aware mobile apps for museums to enhance the way we experience art.” By integrating features that are as diverse as content management, beacon integration, indoor wayfinding, and multimedia, Spotzer’s app helps serve up personalized digital experiences to users. Moving through an exhibit, the app can serve up personalized content about a specific item in a museum’s collection or even guide visitors toward choice exhibits based on their personal preferences.

Spotzer’s founder Brendan Ciecko said in an interview with Fast Company, “Museums are spending too much money or they’re relying on obsolete technology to produce multimedia experiences. Our vision for all of this is to connect the real-world experience of going through a museum with a digital experience.”

Imagine this same approach applied to a theme park. Before you head off to Disney for the day, you answer a quick survey (or a detailed survey) about your preferences. You love roller coasters, are major fans of anything comic book related, and want to try rides that have opened since your last visit. An Internet of Things-enabled theme park could offer you a fully customized itinerary, and integrate features like FastPass for the appropriate rides, reservations at a restaurant for your favorite type of cuisine, and orchestrate a path through the park so you have a chance for a Meet and Greet with your favorite characters.

In a sense, rather than needing to overly invest in trip planning, theme park guests simply need to make sure that their desires and preferences are articulated before they head for the park. When you factor in the ongoing power of passive data collection – how much does Google know about you, for example – it’s feasible to imagine that in the not too distant future, much of that information will seamlessly be shared between systems.

There’s another layer to the Internet of Things that needs to be considered. Much of the discussion happening focuses on transactions. This visitor loves roller coasters and Japanese food, so let’s connect her with those opportunities in-park. But wearable technology is measuring much more intimate information. Many of the devices on the market today are health related and measure your heart rate, movement, and more. Futurists are predicting that soon this will translate into intelligent analysis about your emotional state, and in turn give companies the chance to customize their offerings to you based on that information.

How could that impact the theme park experience? Consider a guest that rides a mild roller coaster, and his signals show that he wasn’t too impressed. His customized itinerary might auto-adjust to recommend a more intense thrill ride next. Similarly, most people can empathize with the feeling of being exhausted after wandering around in the heat all day. What if your mobile devices and wearable technology can determine that your energy is starting to flag? They could recommend a show to sit down and watch in the shade while you recover, or connect you to a Guest Happiness Program that offers you a coupon for a free drink at a nearby stand.

While much of this is theoretical, the potential is there. The rate of innovation in the wearable technology space and mobile device development is staggering. Companies are waging a war to develop better devices that gather more information, while content providers are recognizing that there’s a real need for gamechanging applications. With the introduction of Disney’s MyMagic bands, the idea that the Internet of Things could soon be driving our theme park experience doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Many museums are already experimenting with location-based systems and wearable devices. While we’ve got a long way to go, wearable technology and the Internet of Things could bring technology full circle. Instead of distracting us from the physical environment around us, it could be the very thing that helps us appreciate it again.


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