Seattle Week in Review: Disneyland, the Appiest Place on Earth

Xconomy Seattle was in Disneyland most of this week, where the operative question, voiced by one of the thousands of other kindred spirits hiking through the hot, crowded streets of Adventureland Thursday afternoon was, “What are all these people waiting for?” More on that below—including a gripe about the princess industrial complex. But first a few items from the week in Seattle technology news, including funding for Algorithmia and Textio, $30 million for a Washington State University-led electrical grid consortium, Detroit news from Mighty AI and Madonna, and Amazon’s drone beehive patent.

Algorithmia plans to expand its marketplace for algorithms and its private algorithm-as-a-service offering with a $10.5 million funding round led by Google’s artificial intelligence-focused venture fund. Also participating in the Series A financing for the Seattle startup are Madrona Venture Group, Rakuten Ventures, Osage University Partners, and Work-Bench. The company raised a $2.4 million seed round back in 2014.

Previous Xconomy coverage:
There’s an Algorithm for That: Algorithmia Helps You Find It
Algorithmia Lands In-Q-Tel Deal, Adds Deep Learning Capabilities

Textio, meanwhile, raised a $20 million Series B funding round to expand its “augmented writing” technology to applications beyond the job posts and recruiting communications where it has gained significant traction.

Washington State University was tapped to lead a five-year, $30 million joint research project with India on advancing the power grid. With $7.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, $7.5 million from other participating U.S. institutions, and $15 million from the Indian government and industry sources, the effort will focus on incorporating renewable energy and storage technologies into the electric power distribution grid.

Some 30 institutions are participating in the U.S. and India, including Pacific Northwest representatives Idaho National Laboratory, Snohomish County Public Utility District, AVISTA Utilities, and Seattle-based GE Grid Solutions, in addition to WSU.

—The news will surely be discussed on Monday at the CleanTech Alliance’s annual CleanTech Innovation Showcase in Seattle. More details available here.

—A couple of items from Xconomy’s Detroit bureau with a Seattle connection:

Seattle-based Mighty AI CEO Matt Bencke explains why the company is opening an office in Detroit.

Metro-Detroit native Madonna responded to Jeff Bezos’ request last week for ideas on how to give away his billions.

—Amazon’s news making patent this week is for a “Multi-Level Fulfillment Center for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” that looks like a beehive. CBInsights breaks down the logistics and fulfillment center patents that Amazon has applied for over the last eight years, highlighting some of the most unconventional, such as blimp-borne and aquatic fulfillment centers.

—The Disney empire is vast, and constantly growing. In our family’s three-day forced march into the heart of the Magic Kingdom, I observed six decades of innovation in the name of imagination, entertainment, and commerce, from the old-school animatronics of the Enchanted Tiki Room to modern location-based services that ease the interminable waits.

We spent a lot of time plotting our course through the parks with the Disneyland App, which provides crucial information including live updated wait times at most of the rides, and tracking of the characters roaming the parks so we could stalk them for autographs and photos.

There’s more that can be done here with today’s technology to allow park guests to schedule their ride times and reduce the number of hours spent standing in line. Disney has had a “FastPass” system in place since 1999 allowing people to pick up a ticket for a shorter line to ride at an appointed time later in the day. And indeed, Disney is taking it a step further with a system to book FastPasses in the mobile app for an additional fee. It was announced in January, but does not appear to be in place yet.

I can only guess at the combination of technologies necessary to make a system like this run smoothly. What’s that line about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic?

But the real magic we experienced was much more low-tech and high-touch: When my daughters were spontaneously given “best dancer in Disneyland” pins for starting a dance party; when they got to hold hands with a favorite character and walk a minute through Fantasyland; when they lost themselves exploring a pirate island of trails and caves. Technology helps make some of those moments, but it’s really the people—the “cast members”—nearly all of whom seem to really love their jobs that make the magic.

Here’s my complaint: Those same “cast members” regularly address the girls as “princess”—when they pass through security, when they’re eating a meal, when they’re waiting in line for a ride. It happened so frequently that I can only assume it’s a corporate policy. I understand. It’s part of the fairytale come to life.

But this is exactly why I was wary bringing my daughters—the eldest wants to work in a science museum—into the heart of the princess industrial complex. The default assumption at Disneyland seems to be that all little girls want to be princesses. And sure, mine are fascinated by Anna and Elsa and Belle and Tiana, but the Disney empire now includes so much more.

It would be great for Disney to not assume that the princess narrative is the default desire of every girl who comes to visit. Leave open the opportunity for them to imagine themselves as adventurers, archeologists, explorers, Jedi knights, storytellers, creators—inhabitants of any of the many other wonderful worlds that Disney has built.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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