Walt Disney World History – The AT&T WorldKey System

Even though it was very useful, the system is no longer in existence.


In order to explain why WorldKey is now extinct, let us look at the technology driving the attraction. The system was implemented in the form of walk-up kiosks with video screens. Some of the kiosks were beneath Spaceship Earth, others on the bridge to World Showcase.


The first part of the system we come across is the touchscreen, which isn’t really touch sensitive at all. Instead a series of infra-red beams along the top and sides of the monitor divide it into a number of squares. When your finger gets in the way of the beams, the computer works out which square you’re touching, and sends the signal.


The rest of the magic was performed through closed-circuit TV, which was used to let you see a cast member when making dining reservations. They could see you through a small camera above the screen, which also had a little microphone nearby to allow you to converse.


The information portion of the WorldKey system allowed users to select attractions via the touchscreen and see a video and hear a description of it in the language of their choice. Just how did the computer manage to send such high quality audio and video over such long distances? (Bear in mind how long ago WorldKey started). The simple answer is, it cheated a little. All of the audio and video content was pre-recorded onto laserdiscs (or videodiscs, if you prefer). The only data that needed to be sent via computer was the position on the disc where the audio or video was.


The problems for WorldKey began, however, with Universe of Energy. This attraction opened after WorldKey, and thus required WorldKey to be updated. Since this would mean updating every laserdisc for every terminal, this was seen as an unnecessary expense, and so a text overlay system was used to add the information in. In order to ensure that the on-screen text could be kept up to date, it was stored inside the computer program and overlaid on top of the video by the laserdisc player (if you were to look very carefully, you would see that this text isn’t in the same typeface as the headings that were pre-recorded).


Other new attractions and changes to the park were dealt with in a similar way until the arrival of Test Track. Since there was no way of removing the original ‘World of Motion’ information from the map (because it was on the original laserdisc), it was decided to leave WorldKey as it was, effectively rendering the information portion of the system obsolete. As the AT&T sponsorships started to expire, and the laserdisc players became harder to maintain due to a lack of parts availability, the WorldKey terminals were removed. Dining reservations in EPCOT were merged back into the WDW-DINE telephone system.


These days, a system like WorldKey could be put together very easily, with wi-fi net connections doing most of the hard work, but there are no plans for it to return. After all, now that it’s that easy, where’s the fun?

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