A happy kitten at Disneyland?
While the big story about the next generation of guest experiences using RFID (or Radio Frequency IDentification) at Disney theme parks has been the introduction of the Magic Bands at Walt Disney World, what hasn’t been shared is the story of how Disneyland played a part in some early testing of the project. Not using park guests as one might expect, but something a bit less in profile. The feral cat population of the Disneyland resort, to be exact.
Over the years, Disney has actually encouraged the growth of a feral cat colony in Anaheim. To the point that regular feeding stations have been established. Cast Members have captured many of these to be spayed and neutered, along with medical check-ups and then released back into the Parks. Feline Cast Members play their role in keeping down the rodent and other pest populations. And they have become regular attractions in their own right, as some guests look forward to seeing them on every visit.
When the RFID project was in a very early stage, Disney considered a number of options to test the process. One early concept involved outfitting Custodial Cast Members with a special tracking apparatus. With these as the most mobile of all Cast Members, it seemed logical to track their movements throughout the Parks during the course of their working days. However, this concept was quickly discarded as union representatives objected to the tracking of their members. For example, it was considered inappropriate to note how or what restrooms these Cast Members might visit. Management could not differentiate between personal or work related stops. Time stamping an entry and exit would place an unwarranted burden on individuals.
Another test group considered was the Annual Passholder population. Using the most enthusiastic visitors, those who visit the Anaheim resort 5 or more times per week, this would offer a high quality sample with a short window for testing in the field. However, it became impractical to fit this group of test subjects with proper tracking devices available at the time. Usual methods such as ankle bracelets or collars would have placed the cost at too high a level.
Seven months later, a practical solution was reached with the development of prototype bands. This led to the search for a test population which could be monitored without existing concerns coming into play. Hence the Feline Cast Members. The prototype RFID bands strongly resembled cat collars. Using the cats would allow testing at a low-cost and would offer a robust opportunity for tracking throughout the Anaheim resort. Management approved the project and greatly anticipated successful results.
Sources inside Disney commented that during the early deployment some of the cats had tended to congregate near feeding stations. Checks of these areas revealed that some of the tracking collars/bracelets had been removed by some of the more aggressive population. An increase in dead rodents found near the abandoned collars also raised concerns. Both events were discounted and the test period proceeded.
In the end, using these Feline Cast Members proved a success and lead to further studies on the subject. Now with the current generation of Magic Bands in use in Walt Disney World, only time will tell how well guests will make use of this technology.