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Disney is using an industrial-strength 802.11 wireless network to power its Toy Story Mania! ride, which opened last year at both Disney's California Adventure and its Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Disney plans to open another Toy Story Mania! at its Tokyo Disneyland Resort.

Disney WiFi-powered rides

Disney's famed Imagineering team says Toy Story Mania! is the most high-tech ride they have ever built.

With Toy Story Mania!, riders board peanut-shaped vehicles that seat eight. They wear 3-D glasses and view 3-D images of the characters from the Toy Story movies.

Riders pass five classic carnival games and use an onboard shooting device to throw pies, toss rings or otherwise interact in a virtual way with the games. Ten-inch LCD displays on the vehicles show riders how many points they've racked up during each game.

Powering Toy Story Mania! are 154 graphics workstations running Windows XP that are used to render 3-D images on the ride's screens at 60 frames per second. The workstations communicate with each other and with the four gaming systems onboard each vehicle using an industrial-strength wireless network based on 802.11 technology.

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The wireless network integrates a huge amount of real-time information gathered from the ride: the exact location of the vehicles within one inch; the rotation of the four turrets on each end of the vehicles; and the pitch, yaw and activity of each onboard shooting device.

This information is fed into the graphics workstations so they can accurately render images of pies or rings coming out of the shooting devices at accurate angles and with accurate projectiles.

The wireless 802.11 network is a key component of Toy Story Mania! because it has to keep the visual effects coordinated with the movement of the ride.

"One of the challenges was just getting [the 3-D graphics] flowing smoothly with the vehicle," says John Noonan, technical director of show control systems for Walt Disney Imagineering.

"Coordinating all of that information, keeping all of those network messages synchronized, that was a lot of little details to keep coordinated. That was the big challenge with this ride."

NEXT PAGE: Disney plans to incorporate more wireless networks into its amusement park rides