Theme Parks in the Post COVID Era: AI and IoT based Transformation

Vinod Anand Bijlani -
Theme Parks, Virtual, IoT
Illustration: © IoT For All

Covid-19 threw the world for a loop in 2020. It was also the year when roller coasters and rides in theme parks literally ground to a halt from enforced lockdowns. Some entertainment venues put in their best efforts for a cautious reopening with limited capacity to implement safe distancing measures. But safely embracing the new normal demands more than manual checks for temperatures and safe distancing norms.

It is about time to tap into the magic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) for a viable solution to keep the fun and fantasy of theme parks through the pandemic and beyond. In this article, I elucidate how theme parks can undergo a sustainable transformation to build a safe and pleasant visitor experience for creating immersive, Fantasmic memories.

‘Pods’ and UWB Tags – An AI and IoT-Driven Solution for Theme Parks

The transformation that I propose is backed by what I call the ‘pod’ concept. A family or a group visiting the theme park, for all practical and safety purposes, can be classified as a ‘pod.’ Each member of the family or group can be considered a ‘pod member.’ The concept of pods and pod members helps with tracking and safe distancing of visitors and prevents intermingling and cross-infection between pods.

The pod concept will be combined with wearable IoT technology to effectively and continually track the movement and geographical location of pod members. Various technologies can be implemented for the wearables. Still, the most accurate and effective would be the Ultra-wide Band (UWB), which can trace location accurately within 10 cm of its actual geographical location. The UWB technology is more spatially aware than other similar technologies such as RFID and BLE, making it ideal for a theme park environment. Unlike its peers, it operates at extremely high frequencies over a wide range in open environments, making it more sensitive and highly accurate with directional and spatial data. Used for data transmission and positioning, it is exceedingly adaptable and can run on low battery power despite multiple users, making it the most viable IoT solution.

The analytics collected from real-time UWB data, combined with contactless and voice-enabled sensors and scanners and CCTV cameras, and other devices dotting the venue, could be the prototypical solution to reopening theme parks to a considerable degree of safety. UWB-based wearable technology will improve touchless ticketing and entry processes. A theme park mobile app will provide comprehensive information and assistance throughout the journey, making for a pleasant visitor experience.

Safe Theme Park Journey Despite COVID  

The theme park journey begins at the time of booking tickets. Touchless fever detection and mask detection technology will become key safety measures at all entry points of the parks. Combining thermal imaging with video analytics and AI techniques provides a robust system to identify individuals, record their body temperature, and check whether they are wearing masks.

As part of the ticketing process, sterilized wearable UWB tags will be issued to each pod member, along with the tickets using a voice-enabled ticket vending machine. The vending machine will make for contactless ticket dispensing, helping prevent cross-contamination and supporting visually challenged visitors. It will also eliminate the need to man the entrance and front office, with only backend staff mainly managing dispensing, collecting back, sterilizing, re-charging the UWB wearables, and maintaining the network components.

With wearable technology, pod members will pass through without waiting in the queues or scanning barcodes. The park will keep track of the real-time count of traffic and wait periods at various rides and attractions using the data relayed from the UWB tags.

With contactless access critical in public areas with heavy-touch surfaces and high footfall, the UWB tags can also configure and purchase locker storage for essentials, such as backpacks and personal belongings. These tags can also be scanned to lock and unlock the lockers, avoiding contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.

The Theme Park mobile app will provide real-time information on traffic and wait periods at various rides and attractions, which will help the pod with a recommended itinerary and route. Pod members can use the app to narrow-down on the rides best suited to them, thereby avoiding long queues and cliquey crowds while simultaneously maintaining safe social distancing protocols. The app will also furnish synchronous information on crowd levels and people data on a sitemap so that pods can decide the areas to be avoided.  If the members of a pod decide to split up and visit separate parts of the theme park, the UWB tag and the app can together help them plan their mutually exclusive courses, track the other pod members throughout their individual trips around the park, and help them locate one another again for a safe reunion at the end of their respective adventures.

The UWB tags’ data form the buttress of communication between every point of the park and the app. To safeguard visitor health and make an enjoyable jaunt, all aspects of the theme park experience need to be linked. Using the theme park app, pod members can indicate their likes and preferences for specific products at various shops inside the theme park and pre-book their visit and shopping period. The wayfinding feature can help them locate the shops where the products are available. En route, the app collects data from the UWB tags to trace and indicate visitor count at the merchandise stores. If the crowd levels are higher than permissible, pod members desiring to visit the store can postpone their shopping trip until the visitors are dispersed.  

Similarly, the app will list real-time data of the total footfall and available seating at restaurants across the park and allow for pre-ordered food.  Further, locations of and crowd levels at rest areas can also be checked well ahead of time so that families, especially those with children, have a hassle-free experience using the facilities.

Getting Back on the Roller Coaster 

The approaches I have mentioned can be implemented in stages, starting with contactless ticketing. The UWB technology may require a substantial initial investment to set up a network hub connected to wireless bridges. Still, it is viable in the long run as smartphones can provide sensors, making them cost-effective. Coupled with inputs from the theme park app and possibly the data from video footage captured from across the park, the experience can be tailored over time, catering to those needs that are more critical to visitor satisfaction, health, and loyalty of a safe and minimal-infection environment.