Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Keep the Magic Alive: Using a Disney MagicBand with your Smart Phone

We're back from a long weekend at Disney World (post and pictures coming soon!), and along with a pile of laundry and e-mail, I've got one of these:

That's a Disney MagicBand, which is your digital room key, park ticket, ride pass and wallet. They're given out to kids and adults alike, and I've got to say, they were a convenient platform.

But now what do I do with it? Sell it on eBay?

The bands are used just like an NFC tag, so while at the park I attempted to scan mine with my phone's NFC reader. No luck. The documentation that came with the bands suggested they were perhaps RFID technology and not NFC.

This morning I did some further poking around. A kind soul has posted a complete teardown of the band. Apparently, it includes both a short range and long range RFID chip.

Disney fully acknowledges the MagicBands contain a long range RFID transmitter, which is apparently how they managed to get a photo of Shira on the Everest Roller Coaster without her ever explicitly stating she was on the ride. Well done, if you ask me.

I wasn't ready to give up on using my MagicBand for something techy, so I turned to Google and asked about NFC. Turns out, the band does contain an NFC tag. I tried detecting the tag with Tasker this morning, and sure enough, it found it:

Perhaps in the park I didn't touch the band against the correct location on my Galaxy S5? The NFC sweet spot isn't particularly large. Regardless, the above check mark means that the band is absolutely usable outside of a Disney context.

Given that Tasker can read the band ID, there's no shortage of magic that could be attached to the band. Right now, when I scan mine it announces: Take me back to Disney World. But it shouldn't take much to make the band actually do something useful.

I doubt Disney cares that I can recycle their band by using it in another tech project with ease. But I for one am glad they did this, and am glad to give them credit for it. Well played Disney, well played.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things I miss about embedded systems development is that feeling of "making actual stuff do stuff." There are few things as much fun as experiencing the reification of a software process in the physical world. (I don't miss the non-deterministic debugging.)