Disney World begins testing RFID theme park entry at Epcot without turnstiles

in Disney, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

Given its emphasis on future technology, it’s no surprise that Walt Disney World has chosen its Epcot theme park as the location to use a new ticket entry system. Testing began today on an RFID based system that requires no turnstiles to enter the theme park. Guests instead simply place a chip-equipped ticket up to a Mickey Mouse-themed device and after a quick finger scan, a green light lets them know they can proceed into the park.

RFID stands for radio-frequency identification, which allows tiny electronic chips to be scanned without the use of lasers or barcodes. Information can be stored on these chips to, in this case, give Disney’s guests quicker entry into theme parks.

@DisKingdom took part in the new test at Epcot, sharing information and a couple of photos with us of the new scanners that have replaced some of the park’s turnstiles. A full report with more photos can be found on their Disney Projects web site.

Guests visiting Epcot today have the option of having their tickets scanned and then equipped with a Mickey Mouse sticker with an embedded RFID chip, presumably encoded with the same information found on the ticket’s magnetic strip, normally used for entering the park. The sticker itself is a bit thicker than a standard paper ticket due to the chip inside, but not thick enough to be intrusive. If the test goes well, future tickets presumably will have RFID chips embedded inside them.

Upon approaching the new RFID scanners, guests are instructed to simply hold their chip-equipped tickets up to the Mickey Mouse head shape, then place a finger onto the biometric scanner, and wait for the green light to pass through. Reports suggest it is a faster process than going through traditional turnstiles, taking only a few seconds.

(Photo courtesy: Disney Projects)

During the test, many of Disney’s cast members are monitoring guests’ flow through, offering instructions on how to use the new system. While lines can and will still form leading up to these new scanners, the goal is to reduce the amount of time each guest spends in using a ticket to enter the park, ultimately reducing the wait time to get in.

Rumors of Disney using RFID throughout their theme parks have been around for a while, indicating that not only could guests enter the park using this technology, but also to purchase items within the park (like many credit card companies’ existing scan-and-pay options), as well as in interactive and personalized experiences throughout theme park attractions and shows. So it’s possible this Epcot test is far more than just an enhancement to entering the park, but the beginning of the future in how Disney guests enjoy the theme park experience.

Security concerns are always raised when RFID technology is used, as the ability to have quick scans has the potential of being abused or hacked. Some may be concerned about the use of finger scans, thinking Disney is fingerprinting its guests, but these biometric scans have been in use for select passes for several years, scanning only finger dimensions and not the fingerprint. Disney has also likely taken all necessary security measures to prevent abuse of the RFID chips, though given how the technology works, it’s easy to imagine that someone with enough equipment and knowhow could potentially find a way “into” the new setup, even possibly cloning and duplicating someone else’s annual pass. And depending on just how much personal information is stored (or accessible) on the RFID chips, now or in the future, the potential for identity theft is another issue Disney surely will be considering as the test continues. Fortunately, extreme close proximity to a ticket would be required to “read” it, so it’d be rather obvious if someone was trying to access it without permission. In other words, keeping an RFID-equipped ticket (or credit card) safely tucked away is the best way to avoid this issue.

This is the second time Disney has tested a turnstile-free entry into Epcot. The first occurred in March, featuring rows of barcode scanners. At the time, Disney commented, “Our teams are always trying out new ideas – stay tuned to see if this makes it into the parks.” And the same statement likely holds true for the new RFID test that began today. It’s another way in which Disney will learn valuable information in an effort to continue to improve the overall guest experience, with the ultimate goal of reducing lines and waits, enhancing the magic of visiting a Disney theme park.

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