Making the Band – MagicBand Teardown and More

Disclaimer: Every single thing in this post is public record, or publicly-available information. Please don’t comment otherwise. :)

Welcome back!

Today’s post is a departure from the usual… Many of you know that I’m a school counselor. You may not realize that I’ve got a lot of history with technology; having majored in computer science, attended a technology-focused high school, served in many technology roles across my career path, and even built award-winning robots (at a competition hosted by Disney, no less).

Suffice it to say, technology very much interests me. MagicBands, MyMagic+, and the whole Next Gen technology push at Disney is no exception. I decided to tear down one of my many MagicBands (actually, my girlfriend‘s broken one) to see just what’s going on inside there. Beyond just tearing into the Band itself, I pulled all of the information from the FCC’s search engine relevant to MagicBands and shared that with you as well.

First, the MagicBand teardown! Big, huge thanks to @clintssmith for the table and the photography help!

Thoughts: I knew about the RFID technology… it just made sense to me. Here’s the Wikipedia page about RFID, so you can understand why I assumed quite easily that was what was going on here. The Wal-Mart tag on that page looks a lot like what you see in loss-prevention (anti-shoplifting) tags, as well as the antenna/induction coil layout in the MagicBand. HowStuffWorks also explains RFID, in a much more understandable way.

What surprised me about the inside of the MagicBand was the button cell battery, the second transmitter setup, and the size of the antenna on that second transmitter. RFID is a type of near-field communication, meaning it has to be very close to the reader to activate and to transmit. The non-RFID transmitter is both powered and has a huge (relatively) antenna the size of the colored part of the Band. This means that the communication does NOT require that your band be right at the reader… This means that Disney is wisely able to track MagicBand users as they travel throughout the Parks (and possibly Disney Property as a whole). Will we see Disney roll out long-range readers on their cruise ships? In their stores? On their golf courses? In their resort hotels? Who’s to say? I know I’ve seen MyMagic+ management-types aiming a directional antenna at my train as I rolled into Main Street Station. Data is money and guest satisfaction. There’s no way Disney is going to leave either of those on the table.

Beyond the Band

The long-range antenna and second chip had me wondering just what sort of specifications these MagicBands had… on a suggestion from @clintssmith, I decided to hit the FCC’s public search engine to dig up a little more info for you guys. I’ve linked PDF documents below, each with some fairly interesting information within them.

Visit https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/GenericSearch.cfm?calledFromFrame=N if you want to dig up the documents yourself. Enter the grantee code Q3E and go to town…

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 5.56.42 PMYou’ll get a results page like this:

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 5.53.50 PMAnd clicking on any of the links will lead you deeper:Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 5.59.14 PMHowever, as I said, I’ve done the work for you. Click through the following links for some interesting reading, if you’re a nerd type like me. Or click them for cool pictures like this one, and dozens more:

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.37.57 PMSo, here’s what I found:

MagicBand:

MagicBand Reader Dome:

Payment Device:

XBR (Long Range Receiver) Version 3.0:

XBR(Long Range Receiver) Version 3.2:

XBR(Long Range Receiver) Version 4.0:

XTPRA/XTPRS:

Hope you enjoyed this little detour from the usual… Please let me know in the comments or on twitter!
-ADA
@AtDisneyAgain

76 Comments Add yours

  1. Rich says:

    Nice info. I had assumed they used active RFID tags or transmitters and wondered if they were 2.4GHz or Bluetooth. There’s always been the intention of adding interactivity to rides, etc., which would need something better than just passive tag reading.
    I’m excited to see what they can do with the system. It will allow them to keep moving forward with technology in rides and also improve customer service in some aspects once they have gathered enough data about how guests operate in the parks.

    1. I hope they take it as far as we imagine and more. They spent big to get the infrastructure, I want them to use it.

      1. Rich says:

        It cracks me up when people think it is just a money grab and toss out the required “Walt must be rolling” piece. I think Walt would have loved this and would have already had all sorts of integrated uses throughout the parks.

      2. No doubt. He was the first child of EPCOT, after all.

  2. wfmaguire says:

    Great post. I’m a wireless engineer and have been waiting for an excuse to take one of my families magic bands apart! Great photos and teardown, The 2.4 ghz radio is very interesting and with that antenna could get pretty decent range depending on the power. I cant wait to see what WDW does with it in the future.

    1. Glad you found it. It was super fun to get into and geek out again.

  3. wfmaguire says:

    Reblogged this on The random thoughts of wfmaguire and commented:
    Great post on the insides of your MagicBand.

  4. each band also has the ability to unlock content on the Disney Infinity game disc …
    http://www.disneyinfinityfans.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=4789

    1. Thanks for sharing, sheriff!

  5. happy to. thanks for the teardown. i’m adding a link on our forums back to this as i know we have enough geeks that will be interested ;)

    1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. It’s gone around to some unexpected corners of the internet.

  6. @atdisneyagain, thanks! As a computer science student I find this fascinating!

  7. Strangeite says:

    It is almost a given that the bands are using the new Bluetooth LE protocols. Thomas Staggs confirmed at D11 last year that the bands contain Bluetooth, and your teardown is the final piece that proves it is Bluetooth LE.

    There are a couple of academic papers that have been submitted for peer review by Disney Imagineers that outline the long term goal of the NextGen system and why they needed a long range protocol.

    Here is a paper submitted to an artificial intelligence journal explaining how the Imagineers have created a virtual Magic Kingdom in order to explore real time crowd control. Think flight traffic control for people.

    http://www.spirops.com/papers/Stephanie%20Huerre_CASA_2010.pdf

    Here is another excellent paper submitted to a journal explaining the incentives used in NextGen

    http://jtr.sagepub.com/content/52/4/426

    There are a ton more papers out there. Search academic journals for Disney Imagineering and you will find all kinds of interesting stuff.

    Have fun!

    1. Wow. That’s some great info! Thanks for sharing it. I’ve got some googling to do :)

      1. Strangeite says:

        Don’t forget, Disney is spending $2 billion (yes, with a b) on NextGen. That is more than Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios or Epcot cost to build. NextGen IS the 5th gate.

        I am routinely asked how Disney is going to increase revenue from the system and I am sure they have thought of ways I could never dream of, but there is one very clear and simple demonstration of how NextGen can increase revenue.

        Imagine you are browsing Art of Animation in Epcot, spending quite a bit of time lingering over the animation cells. Suddenly your phone dings. You look down and have received a message saying that a coupon for 10% off anything in Art of Animation has been added to your MagicBand. That would push many people over the edge from browsing to buying.

        But let’s say you resist and leave the store. Later in the evening as you heading back from World Showcase to the entrance and you get near Art of Animation, your phone dings again. This time it says a coupon for 30% of animation cells has been added to your MagicBand. Disney knew you spent quite a bit of time looking at them because the system will let them triangulate your location to within 12 inches or so.

        Don’t believe me? Go eat lunch at Be Our Guest. When you pay for your meal with a MagicBand at the counter, they tell you to go sit anywhere you would like. They don’t give you a number or a beeper or anything. Just go sit anywhere. When your food is done, they bring it right to your table (and those tables are packed tight). They knew exactly where you were located.

        The possibilities are staggering. Read the academic papers, Disney is attempting a level of real-time algorithmic based crowd control that is at least an order of magnitude more sophisticated than anyone has ever attempted.

    2. GrumpyFan says:

      I’m not sure why I’m just now finding this, but great job! I love reading about the behind the scenes technology they’re using. And, like many of you, I’m excited about the potential for its use.

      1. I am happy you found it interesting. It was sort of fun to cut into a MagicBand and have fun getting back to my geek roots.

    3. buffy peterson says:

      I want to make my Disney band into a gps device for tracking the wearer. any suggestions? or something else to make out of its technology?

    4. jimw says:

      who manufactures the chips that Disney is using

      1. No clue. I couldn’t spot any identifying marks on the images that were posted, and I haven’t taken to hacking my own apart.

  8. Jim says:

    It is in the FAQs on the Disney website that they are in fact using long-range RFID antennae to track guests throughout Disney World property and presumably on the cruise ships. It is in fact the main point of the technology. The rest of the stuff (personalization, etc.) is just to actually get you to wear it.

    1. Thank you, Jim. The card that comes with the Annual Passholder MagicBand states much of the same. Not sure when the verbiage went on the website… Thanks again for the update!

  9. Will Blears says:

    Very interesting, thanks for going to the effort of doing this and then doing a write up. I will be sharing this with our community as I am sure many people will be very interested!

    1. Thanks for reading it. Always happy to share what little I know about MagicBands.

  10. Geren Piltz says:

    So glad to find such a thorough article. Can you provide any information on the actual data stored on the band, perhaps with the text of the information. A friend gifted me a band, and without a reader, RFID or otherwise, I’m stymied. Really appreciate your kind efforts.

    1. My understanding is that the band merely holds an ID associated with the account that the system just looks up your account’s privileges. No info is stored on the band, as far as I know.

      1. Geren Piltz says:

        Thanks very much for your kind reply. Fascinating to dig into the behind-the-scenes details, and makes me appreciate why this kind of system is so complex. Love the blog!

      2. Thanks! I’m posting a behind the scenes tour next – the one at EPCOT’s Land Pavilion.

      3. jimw says:

        who manufactures the chips Disney is using?

  11. Alan says:

    In my point of view, Magic band is not only for ticket but also a sort of geo-fencing device. In their explanation from “https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/my-disney-experience/frequency-technology/”, device doesn’t send personal info but it may send device unique id through ISM band. From given info, system will send proper coupon or guide base on their position. If you wanna know this kind of services, refer ibeacon or playpal. I guess Jack Dorsey have an ambitious plan to extend NEXT Generation e-commerce system on WDW.

  12. I’m not positive, but I think all the tech is RFID. There are both passive and active tags in each MB. There are passive tags that can be read from up to 30 meters away. Active tags extend the range even further and dramatically increase the speed of communication.

    Paired with a database, there’s absolutely no reason that more data would be needed to add interactivity to attractions.

    Want to personally greet everyone in a ride vehicle? Scan the vehicle for IDs, join the IDs to first names in the database, and play the corresponding audio or update the appropriate video display.

    Lots of possibilities. The dual RFID implementation should lay the foundation for some big things.

    1. I’m pretty excited about what the future holds for MagicBands and MyMagic+. I remember seeing MyMagic+ teams scanning our train with a directional antenna once. It was interesting to see them gathering data so easily and quickly on an old “dumb” attraction.

      1. stevensokulski says:

        Amazing! And disguising the antennas into existing attractions should be quite easy. They can be located quite far away and easily pass through mesh, cloth, or wood. So putting them in themed boxes, furniture, etc. should work well.

  13. Michael Owens says:

    How easy would it be to add the magic band rfid to another bracelet? True magic band customization!!

    1. Many people have turned them into pendants for necklaces.

  14. VR says:

    I did a rip apart myself as well. It’s a bit different from yours in a sense that central chip didn’t fall out and is actually soldered in. It has markings “NRF CO 24LEDN” which I guess is a custom (“DN” for Disney) version of NRF24LE1 from Nordic Semiconductor. Here is a quick specs from their website :
    The nRF24LE1 integrates an nRF24L01+ 2.4GHz RF transceiver core, enhanced 16MHz 8-bit 8051 compatible CPU, 1kB + 256B RAM, 16kB embedded Flash, and a wide range of system peripherals including a hardware AES accelerator, 16MHz and 32kHz RC oscillators, ultra low power 32kHz crystal oscillator, 12-bit ADC and SPI, 2-wire and UART serial interfaces.

    The nRF24LE1 is available in 3 package options:
    4 x 4mm 24-pin QFN with 7 generic I/O pins – this one exactly like the chip in the band.

    16Kb embedded flash can keep plenty of data (and custom DN version can have even more !) Hardware AES accelerator is to provide encryption as I undesrtand.

  15. La Bete says:

    Working in Public Safety, my first reaction to the Magic Band was how truly brilliant it is. In an environment filled with children just waiting to get lost, abducted or worse, it is the equivalent of planting a GPS chip in every guest. Should a child go missing, they can be tracked, if not to their immediate position, to a last known position, which would certainly be beneficial to the urgency of a search effort. Security would also be able to track who they are with in a case of abduction, flight, etc.

    Of course, the key is to get everyone to wear a Magic Band. The conveniences, benefits and other added value from the consumer standpoint is marketing at its best. This is especially true of guests staying in a Disney resort, where the band is their room key, payment method, etc. Disney marketing is focused on getting guests to use them, which is a good thing. In the coming month, expect to see more personalization options and accessories. They already sell at least 2 different exclusive “Frozen” themed Magic Bands, more incentive for guests to wear them.

    The only wrinkle I noticed during my recent park trip was that I saw many parents wearing both the Magic Band of their children as well as their own, tapping both when necessary to simplify accessing FastPasses, etc. Because Disney is necessarily coy about the security aspects of the bands, I’m sure these parents do not realize the benefit of having their children wear their own band. If they advertised that everyone was being tracked, those with subversive agendas would know to remove them or use the alternate passholder card so that they could avert being caught.

  16. Pingback: MagicBand Teardown
  17. Pingback: Magic Handcuffs |
  18. Erica says:

    I’m curious, if they can track a band to within 12 inches, why aren’t they making use of this technology when there is a lost child? Thanks!

    1. I think I’ve heard that they have done that.

  19. mike.baloun says:

    who manufactures the RFID chip

  20. Michael says:

    What company does Disney use to make the magic band? What tech company or chip company?

    1. Sadly, I don’t know.

  21. Wallace Banach says:

    I’m trying to invest in the companies that provide the technological components for the magic band. All of them. Please list all of them that you can and what specific components they supply for the magic bands. I can’t find this anywhere on the web. Please e-mail me back. I don’t Tweet.
    Thank you.
    Happy Halloween 🎃,
    Wallace…

    1. Honestly, I do not know who makes the components. Friends in the know have told me they’re likely custom chips from a large-scale fabricator in China, bought dirt cheap.

    2. Lisa says:

      If you find out the answer to this, will you let me know too :) I want to invest also.

      1. stevensokulski says:

        Al of the components are commodity. That is to say there is no piece of the MagicBand that can only be manufactured by a single firm. Nothing on the hardware level is highly proprietary.

        This leads me to believe that when their current manufacturing agreement ends, Disney is likely to use the lowest bidder.

  22. Karl Waters says:

    The guts come ERIC and the bands are put together in China

  23. Ken says:

    I know this is an old post but I stumbled onto it and found the info pretty interesting. I have a feeling that this technology will be used with something like the apple watch. I believe by 2018 this type of technology will be the latest and greatest in every household. I haven’t looked thru the attached files but it would be interesting to see if the suppliers of the internal parts of this band was supplying to apple, google, Samsung etc etc with the same parts. Thanks for doing all the leg work, great write up!

    1. Definitely some technological overlap. The pay points at WDW use Magic Bands as well as the Apple Watch.

    2. I’m sure this is just the beginning.

  24. mayday67 says:

    Who is the major manufacturers of the components used in in this technology? Would be a great investment.

  25. Joelster says:

    Nordic Semiconductor (is in Norway not on the US stock exchange). NXPI and AMS:SW. David Gardner at Motley Fool most likely has all of these answers if anyone knows how to get in touch with him.

    1. Awesome. Thank you for the info!

  26. Terry Brewer says:

    I want to know the company’s that make all this stuff ?

  27. German Lopez says:

    I know its an old post but whoa this is intense!! Any idea on how i could dissect the circuitry with all the info of a magic band and put it in another band without completely destroying it. So if i bought a pre-owned magic band, taking out the chip and putting in the new chip with my current trip info. Awesome pics though.

    1. If the goal is to be able to use the new band not he same account as the old one, the best answer would be to take both to Guest Relations at the parks and have them setup for you. Could also be done at your hotel’s front desk, I believe.

      As to actually transplanting the chip from one to the other, in looking at the band you’d have a really hard time getting in there without doing significant damage.

      1. German Lopez says:

        I’ve heard and read that you couldn’t reuse a band that contained someone else’s account info in the past cuz that would indeed be the easiest way of doing it.

      2. Ah yes, that’s true. Once a MagicBand is registered it can’t be re-registiered.

        Typically, resale bands are used for collecting I think.

  28. Paul S says:

    Despite all the whizz bang technology I’m appalled at the waste. There must be millions of these things issued each year and used for several days to a week and then what? Eventually discarded. Mercury, lithium, cadnium, yikes! Does Disney have any kind of recycle/reuse program for Magic Bands?

    1. I don’t think there’s any mercury in a MagicBand. Mercury is most commonly found in electronics as part of a display such as an LCD.

      And the amount of lithium and cadmium found in this hardware is comparable to the button cell battery you’d find in a noise-making happy meal toy, musical birthday card, etc.

      For recycling, you can drop it off at your hotel’s front desk when you check out, or keep it and reuse it on a subsequent trip. Disney even offers a way for you to decline MagicBands on your next trip if you already have one.

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