Last year the news broke that Disney World was planning to start testing with self-driving shuttles in backstage areas of the parks. We’ve been waiting to hear about when the program might start, but were recently told that Disney wants to wait because they’re not confident the technology is ready. Apparently the news was dropped in a recent forum for managers.
We had heard the first test was to begin in EPCOT running cast members around the large backstage area. As this is a job currently done by a large bus with a human driver over a set route, it seemed perfect to be taken over by an autonomous shuttle.
There had been a couple news reports recently about these unnamed self-driving shuttles being bumped into by other vehicles. The problem isn’t that the autonomous shuttle moves dangerously, it’s that other drivers expect certain behavior and the shuttle just isn’t programmed to react that way.
For instance, in a test in another state, a semi-truck was backing up and a self-driving shuttle stopped so it wouldn’t be hit. But unfortunately, when the truck changed direction the shuttle just saw there until there was a collision. Sure the shuttle wasn’t at fault, but with a lot of delivery trucks driving around backstage, I can see how Disney would want to make sure scenarios like that were resolved before bringing the shuttle to their property.
We wrote about the potential for self-driving cars to help solve some transportation problems for Walt Disney World as far back as 2013 and 2014. It’s only a matter of time before a company like Tesla wants to showcase its leadership in the industry to the tens of millions of guests who visit Walt Disney World each year.
This project was supposed to start as a completely backstage experience, but I think there is an opportunity to make a public version and demonstrate to Walt Disney World guests the transportation system of tomorrow.
Of course, Disney recently introduced the Minnie Van service. This is largely seen as Disney trying to get out infront of services like Lyft and Uber. In other cities, those ride share services are already testing self-driving cars. Its believed that the Minnie Van service will switch to self-driving cars when the technology is ready.
Disney should pick a couple routes where they could have dedicated roadways for self-driving shuttles that can be used to transport guests around the parks and resorts. A good place to try this would be between Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the two nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge resorts (leave room for that rumored third hotel in the area too). If you were ambitious, a track could go behind Animal Kingdom over to the Ticket and Transportation Center parking lot.
Another potential location is a replacement for the bus system between Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach and Rivera Resort. A shuttle system that drops guests off at the Disney Skyliner station would be ore efficient than a bus loop.
Self-driving cars eventual arrival is expected to change how theme parks are designed. With the need for giant parking lots vastly reduced, there will be a lot more real estate for Disney to use for parks and resorts too. If Disney decided to build a second gate where the TTC parking lot is now, what theme would you like to see?