Walt Disney World unveils new ride at Epcot
The ‘Sum of All Thrills’ uses robot-arm technology that Universal Orlando is also believed to be using for a new Harry Potter ride
3:45 PM EDT, October 14, 2009
Walt Disney World unveiled its newest attraction Wednesday, a small but significant addition featuring first-of-its-kind simulators that allow guests to design – and then ride – their own roller coasters, bobsleds and jet planes.
But what makes the “Sum of All Thrills” at Epcot particularly interesting is that it offers a glimpse of what to expect in an even bigger attraction being built at Universal Orlando as part of that resort’s highly anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Disney attraction, underwritten by defense contractor Raytheon Co., features robotic arms that that loft riders through the air. The massive mechanical appendages were developed by German robotics company KUKA Aktiengesellschaft, which builds similar arms used by car manufacturers on assembly lines.
It is the first attraction at any of Orlando’s theme parks to use such a ride system. But it is likely to have company soon.
Universal is widely thought to be using robot arms for The Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter, the centerpiece attraction in its $200-plus million Wizarding World project inside Islands of Adventure. While Universal has kept most details of the ride secret so far, construction documents show that the resort is working with a company that builds ride systems based on KUKA arms.
Disney’s ride designers have been interested in KUKA arms for several years. Eric Goodman, a show producer with Walt Disney Imagineering, said they were especially intrigued by the ability to add “hoods” – small capsules that close around a rider and allow for an immersive simulator experience.
Goodman said the technology turned out to be a perfect fit for Disney and Raytheon, which had been discussing a sponsorship deal for an exhibit inside one of Epcot’s Innoventions pavilions. The companies wanted to create an experience in which children used basic math and science principles to design a thrill ride.
The arms have several advantages. Unlike conventional linear rides, for instance, the robot arms in the Sum of All Thrills can move in multiple directions at once because they rotate on six different axes. They have also been programmed with more sophisticated animation software.
“We were able to make a smoother ride,” Goodman said.
Disney’s Sum of All Thrills is by no means identical to Universal’s Forbidden Journey. The Harry Potter attraction, which will be housed in a 15-story replica of Hogwarts Castle, will be a much larger, more lavish experience.
Universal’s ride is also expected to be a type of “robocoaster,” in which the robot arms advance along a track even as they swivel riders in various directions. The bases of the robot arms in the Sum of All Thrills are fixed in place.
The Wizaring World is scheduled to open sometime in the spring.
For Raytheon, the Sum of All Thrills is part of a broader outreach effort that also includes sponsoring the New England Patriots’ new hall of fame in Massachusetts, where it has devised interactive exhibits that combine math and science with football. (Companies inside Epcot’s Innoventions typically pay Disney about $1 million per year in sponsorship fees and sign on for three-year terms.)
William Swanson, chairman and chief executive officer of Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon, said the goal is to get more children interested in learning about math and science – and, not coincidentally, help ensure a continued stream of prospective employees in the future.
“What we need to do is help young children to understand how they can use math. If we can get young kids excited, we can build the pipeline,” Swanson said. “For us, it’s a long-term strategy.”
Jason Garcia can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5414.