My Favorite Convenience Tech: The Disney Magic Band

Before discussing the Disney Magic Band, I got to thinking about this from this article linked by Tyler Cowen:

The syringe slides in between the thumb and index finger. Then, with a click, a microchip is injected in the employee’s hand. Another “cyborg” is created.

What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”

If you are like me, your immediate reaction is "Yuk, I can't imagine doing this."  But my second reaction is that there is really a step change in convenience here that folks who have not tried it may be underestimating.

The reason I know this is from my experience with the Disney Magic Band, a waterproof bracelet about the size of a small watch.  Here is an example, which includes my awesome customized tiger striping I painted on the basic orange band:

At Disneyworld, this band acts as

  • Your room key, activating the electronic locks on your room
  • Your credit card and wallet, with the ability to pay for anything anywhere in the parks and affiliated stores and hotels with a touch to the reader at every register (most require a 4-digit PIN number to be entered as well)
  • Your park entrance ticket
  • Your restaurant reservation
  • Your ride reservation (Fastpass)

One can easily navigate a multiday trip through Disneyworld without a wallet or keys and just this on your wrist.  It is pretty compelling.


  1. John_Schilling:

    Given that we have smart phones and now smart watches that can be loaded with bignum arbitrary apps, and most people wouldn't think of stepping outside their front door without these devices, what's the step function in convenience for having your employer's chip implanted in your body rather than simply uploaded to your phone?

  2. cjsmall:

    Slot machines that accept credit cards are convenient too. I suspect that removing the necessity of getting out one's wallet, etc., is a significant factor in reducing the thought process in making purchases. I'm not arguing against the use of such tools, but there is a psychological component that should be considered.

  3. james:

    and the it gets hacked...

  4. jon49:

    The negative side of having a chip implant: When you are robbed they have to cut into you. I'm sure it wouldn't happen often. But I still prefer the idea of just handing over my wallet.

  5. ErikTheRed:

    That's what I was thinking. I've got a reasonably* secure wireless biometric authentication system that I carry everywhere in my Apple Watch and iPhone. On my last trip I was using my watch as my airline boarding pass, which I thought was pretty cool. And yes, the watch automatically locks itself if it's removed.

    *Reasonably = yes, it can be defeated just like anything else, but 1) the effort involved will very likely exceed the value, and 2) I don't know of anything better for the price. By "anything better" I include the fairly substantial infrastructure to make it work, the well-known and supported software APIs, and the significant amount of third-party buy-in. Yes, it's possible to make a better product but without the correct technological ecosystem it's nothing more than a useless curiosity.

  6. gr8econ:

    Not unlike a sail and sign card on a Carnival cruise, which also works in the casino.

  7. Sam P:

    Back in the late 80s, one of Digital Equipment Corp's labs had an experimental system that provided a glimpse of the ubiquitous pocketable cellular phone future (though I don't think they thought of it that way, I think it was primarily an RFID project): their ID badges were tracked around the lab and at a few nearby bars/dining establishments, when someone called, the nearest physical phone rang.

  8. Q46:

    How will they know where to cut?

  9. Orion Henderson:

    Ski areas do a similar thing (to Disney) with the RFID passes. You can link them to your credit card and charge anything on mountain with the RFID card-just hold your pocked near the register and beep-all done. I am sure it increases the daily on mountain spend-which is why I never link my card to it.

  10. Mercury:

    There isn't much "magic" here that I can see. Isn't this thing just an RFID chip broadcasting a single number? All the credit card/points/room key and other data is stored in central...

    The wristband or implantable chip model won't scale in the real world as it will make the wristband or the finger that hold the microchip too valuable to criminals. A combination of bio-metrics will be unique to each individual and un-stealable. These will be sensed and verified by your phone which will in turn allow you access to the things and only the things to which you are currently entitled. This door opens, the item is can be purchased, this vehicle will move, this account can be accessed. Are you somewhere you shouldn't be? Suddenly nothing works until you remedy that condition.

    Once the US is sufficiently flooded with third-world immigrants and permanent Leftist political supremacy has been achieved, Democrats will "magically" drop their resistance to voter registration and even push for such a mandatory ID which you will be required to have opperational at all times or, at least, without which you will be able to do nothing but walk around in a circle. Legacy ID systems, cash, un-networked activity will fade away and we will all be living in The Magic Kingdom, all the time. Your money, credit, access privileges, car ignition, social media, location, activity history etc. etc. will all be centrally aggregated under your unique ID...any or all which will be just a switch-flick away from being "shut off" at any time.

    Remember, by living in the United States you agree to the terms of the User Agreement.

    Now that's Tech Convenience.

  11. Dan Wendlick:

    Having used both, the Disney implementation is unique as it uses a non-contact RFID. This lets them do some clever things with long-range sensors, like greeting you by name on attractions. It also uses multi-factor identification - a single transaction may require a Magic band, PIN and signature (for third-party vendors within the parks, like many of the restaurants at Epcot, for instance). Entering a park requires both a valid band and fingerprint scan.

  12. ErikTheRed:

    RFID reader with directional antennas and the ability to triangulate a reading based on timing and / or signal strength. I don't know if they already make these in handheld models, but it's not exactly rocket science. Similar technology is used to boost WiFi signals (all that MIMO stuff). If you look at the world of underground electronics (card skimmers, WiFi / cellular signal jammers, etc), I can predict they would be on the black market for less than $500 within days or weeks of demand emerging.

    And anyway, 95+% of people would just put them in their hands anyway. More convenient.

  13. ErikTheRed:

    Democratic resistance to voter registration? Aren't they pushing to make that automatic at birth anyway? This immediately brings to mind Hoppe's assertion that democracy is just a soft / intermediate form of socialism.

    In any case, there is RFID technology that uses PKI challenge / response so on the uniqueness of the device can be ... I don't know if "guaranteed" is the right word, but you'd have to remove and disassemble it to get the key out and it's reasonably easy to make something that small with no need for power or wired data connections to be highly tamper-resistent. This technology is already used in areas like pharmaceutical distribution to prevent counterfeiting.

    I like biometrics much better for right now, but in a few decades that will go out the window when you can buy new eyes at Walmart.

  14. ErikTheRed:

    Not that it's terribly creepy in the private context of park management, but I can just about guarantee that Disney is using these to track customer movement through the park. Yes, tracking RFID tags as they move through a large three-dimensional area is a thing; it was developed long ago for warehousing and distribution. I would be shocked (and even disappointed) if they weren't using it to analyze all sorts of customer behavior.

  15. Mercury:

    Yes but ideally (I would think) you don't want personal identification/authentication to rely on anything that can be stolen (a physical device in your pocket, an implanted chip that can be dug out, cut off, a finger that can be cut off for the print etc.)
    So, perhaps a combination of bio-metrics - maybe the algo determies which ones in any particular case - would be required to pass the "challenge" for authentication.

  16. ErikTheRed:

    Yup. Personally, I think biometrics are the way to go for the next decade or so. The other problem with RFID is that it's easily tracked. Range is simply a question of antenna design, size, and positioning versus background noise and objects that cause physical interference. Way too much abuse potential. And gloves lined with copper mesh sound uncomfortably hot in the summer here.

  17. SineWaveII:

    Nawww. They'll just hold you down and make a duplicate of the chip.

  18. JTW:

    most likely it will be required by law to insert them at a specific spot... Can't have something unregulated, and have some guy think he's funny by putting it in his penis without government permission (and yes, I know people who'd do just that).

    They won't even cut into you, they'll just cut off the entire hand and leave you to bleed out. Less witnesses...

  19. JTW:

    well, we already are moving there. RFID chips in ATM cards in Europe can now be used for small purchases (up to 25 Euro with a limit per day) from far enough away you don't always have to take them out of your wallet (few centimeters, so as to make it harder for criminals to skim the chip from a distance).
    Paypal allows you to have payments automatically authorised (no need to provide your account details for every payment), and so do Android and Apple appstores. Amazon's 1-click ordering process works like that too.

    Banks are also now experimenting with having a similar system through your cellphone.
    Scan a QR code with the bank app, and the bill gets paid without any further need for interaction (though those apps do require you to provide a PIN usually, some can be set to not need even that for small amounts).

  20. Sam P:

    This is all pretty basic security theory. The state of the art for the last century (at least) is to combine three fundamentals into multifactor authentication: what you are (e.g. biometrics), what you know (e.g. passwords), and what you have (e.g. physical token).

  21. obloodyhell:

    }}} At Disneyworld, this band acts as

    And... amazingly, if someone seriously fucked up decides to mug you, they don't have to chop off your hand to get it...!!

  22. obloodyhell:

    "The guy waved his left hand at the reader. Chop that off and we'll be gone in 60 seconds..."

  23. Joana:

    Great article, love it mgmdomino