Meet the Disney Imagineer Behind the VR Breakthough That Is the ‘HoloTile’

The legacy of invention and technology that comes out of Disney Imagineering is some of the closest we’ll get to a sci-fi future. And two of Disney Parks’ most recent incredible projects come from Lanny Smoot, a Disney legend who has already patented over 100 inventions, 74 of which are at Disney Imagineering—including Madame Leota’s floating head.

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You’ll be familiar with his work on that incredible lightsaber he made as real as possible with retractable “laser” action. And now he’s made a very real HoloDeck-inspired invention, a game-changer for the world of VR. “We call it the HoloTile floor,” Smoot shared in a video released by Disney Parks to celebrate his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame; he’s only the second Disney inventor to become a member. The first was Walt Disney himself, for his work on the multi-plane camera.

Image for article titled Meet the Disney Imagineer Behind the VR Breakthough That Is the 'HoloTile'

Image: Disney Parks

Smoot’s legacy includes a number of Imagineering feats; as mentioned above, he’s the brains behind that Star Wars lightsaber wielded by Rey in promotional videos shot around Galaxy’s Edge to introduce the tech seen up close on Star Wars’ now-shuttered Galactic Starcruiser. In the video interview he does say it’s made for the parks, so hopefully we’ll see it pop up at special events or as part of future shows in Batuu. But the star of the video is certainly the HoloTile floor itself.

Smoot describes it as a “omnidirectional floor” you can walk on in any direction you want. He explained, “It will automatically do whatever it needs to have me stay on the floor. And what’s amazing about this is multiple people can be on it and all walking independently. They can walk in virtual reality and so many other things.” Take a look at the image below which gives you a glimpse at the rotating tiles, which simulate the act of walking throughout a space while not leaving that tile mat. It’s so wild to see how you can walk through places like Disneyland in VR on a HoloTile.

Image for article titled Meet the Disney Imagineer Behind the VR Breakthough That Is the 'HoloTile'

Image: Disney Parks

He continued, “Imagine a number of people being in a room, being able to be somewhere else collaboratively and moving around … doing sightseeing. Imagine theatrical stages that might have these embedded in them so dancers can do amazing moves. There’s so many applications for this type of technology.” He added they don’t know yet where the company will use it, but we are very excited to find out. Based on some the demonstration seen in the video, we wonder if it might be paired with his lightsaber for Star Wars stage shows—we definitely think the interviewer was practicing Force-pushing Smoot on a chair over the HoloTiles near the end. The Imagineer looks to be having a blast, and he clearly loves his job. Smoot admits, “It gives me an amazing opportunity to use these inventions that I’ve made in service of people having fun.”

Watch the video interview and tech demonstration below!

Hopefully we’ll be seeing the HoloTile in action soon at Disney Parks.


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