Disney has applied for three patents for unmanned aircraft — yes, drones!
However, the contraptions would be used in the parks' entertainment shows.
Disney's proposals include happy-sounding drones, like "flixels," or floating pixels. These floating pixels could replace dangerous, polluting, and inconsistent fireworks displays. In fact, it looks like the drone designs Disney has in mind could potentially eliminate some major issues associated with outdoor events.
Could this type of commercial use, which is still prohibited by the FAA, change some public perceptions of drones? Drone expert and Pepperdine Law Professor Greg McNeal joins Alex Cohen to discuss.
McNeal on how Disney would use drones in parades and aerial shows:
"So replacing blimps, replacing inflatable-type things you see in parades — they think if they took similar inflatable things but had small drones that would move the arms in precise ways, move the face, move the mouth, move the wings of characters in precise ways, that would make a far more exciting demonstration for the people on the ground."
How Disney would replace fireworks with drones:
"Disney shoots off fireworks pretty much every single day. ... They want to replace the fireworks with coordinated light shows, where the drones assemble and create the image of Peter Pan or Tinkerbell in the air, and then in comes Captain Hook, swinging a lighted sword, and then Peter Pan flies away. And each of these points of light would be represented by a glowing drone in the sky that creates these stunning aerial demonstrations."
Whether this all would be legal:
"If they tried to do it now, it would be illegal. The FAA has basically said that if you're flying drones for commercial purposes without specific authorization fro the FAA, it's unlawful. That's the scope of the FAA prohibition until later this fall, when they're supposed to promulgate new regulations."
Whether those rule changes are likely to happen:
"The first challenge with the rules is that the FAA is expected to miss its deadline. They've already missed a few deadlines, and many people close to this think they're also going to miss the deadline in the fall. Congress has directed since 2012 that the FAA has to integrate drone aircraft into the national airspace. We're going on more than two years without much movement on that front. The second challenge is that even if they did hit their timeline, it's not clear that the FAA knows how to innovate. What Disney is trying to do is something very innovative. ... Will the FAA have rules in place that will accommodate whatever type of drone it is that Disney wants to use? I'm hopeful but I'm not optimistic."
On safety concerns about Disney drones:
"It's tough to think about a company that would be more concerned with safety than Disney. They fire off pyrotechnics every day and they have rides that people are on every day. The other interesting thing about Disney is that after the Sept. 11 attacks, the company's lobbyists convinced congress to add to an appropriation rider a prohibition on flights above Disneyland or Disney World. So no aircraft can fly below 3,500 feet within three miles of Disneyland or Disney World. What that means is that Disney's drones would have no possibility of colliding with other aircraft. And because Disneyland has so much space, there's little likelihood that they're going to need to fly these things directly over people."