Business is often regarded as a place of competition not partnership. But Orlando-based Alcorn McBride has forged some close partnerships in the themed entertainment industry, relationships that often have deep roots in personal friendships such as Alcorn McBride’s long association with Birket Engineering in Winter Garden, Florida. Steve Alcorn and Glenn Birket first met when they were Imagineers working at Epcot. When Alcorn left to launch Alcorn McBride and Birket started Birket Engineering they continued their friendship.
“Now, 30 years after Steve and Glenn met, the next-generation of leadership at both companies is building on that friendship to their own personal satisfaction and with very successful business results,” says Loren Barrows, Chief Operating Officer at Alcorn McBride.
Scott Harkless, Alcorn McBride’s Chief Innovation Officer, and Joe Fox, Senior Project Engineer at Birket Engineering, met at a TEA event. Seeking a career change, Fox was looking for a pathway into the industry.
“The TEA has been the genesis of all the good things in my life that have happened over the last five years – it led to my wife and baby, a new house and job. The TEA has been life transformational for me,” he declares.
Fox, the 2018 winner of the TEA Peter Chernack Distinguished Service Award and a TEA Eastern board member, joined Birket in 2013. He had previously worked in educational software for urban school districts. Then he took Steve Alcorn’s online Imagineering class and took Alcorn’s advice to get involved with the TEA and IAAPA. “I did everything Steve recommended and it led to every good thing in my life,” says Fox.
“In this industry there are companies which compete but are still frequent collaborators. It’s an industry driven by camaraderie: One day we compete, the next we’re working side by side,” he notes. “We can’t live without Alcorn McBride products. And Scott is one of my dearest friends. The fact that I get to work with him is a joy.”
“Alcorn McBride is a product manufacturer with an amazingly talented group of people on staff. But you need a talented group of people outside the building too, people who are in the field using the stuff, providing feedback and steering you in the right direction. People you can tap as resources, share ideas with and build products with,” explains Harkless. “Joe has been essential to my daily life!”
inThrall Delivers AR Captions to Guests
Recently, Alcorn and Birket have teamed on what Harkless calls, “the biggest project we’ve ever collaborated on.” Their solution for delivering Augmented Reality (AR) captions to guests with hearing loss or deafness who are attending parades or dark rides was borne out of an Alcorn customer’s challenge: develop an effective captioning system to replace those being discontinued by manufacturers and design something to serve guests who are moving about and not standing in a specific spot designated to receive captioning information.
“I sat down with Joe and asked what do you think we can do?” recalls Harkless. “We use show control systems to provide captured data, so why can’t we use our show control systems to enable guests to take the experience with them on a ride vehicle? Birket stepped up to the plate with really great ideas and brought some brilliant software engineers to the table.”
“We worked together to define the requirements then Birket built and demo’d the product,” says Fox. “We have an Android-certified developer on staff so his skill set was critical. We had a conversation with Disney about licensing its SyncLink technology. And we reached out to some TEA members and folks at Universal and Disney about their needs and wants, about how the device would be integrated functionally. We wanted to find a solution that wouldn’t throw off the operations team. After all, this was going to be the first new thing in that space in quite some time.”
The result was inThrall. Alcorn McBride’s RidePlayer synchronous audio player and show controller captions the entire parade or attraction and delivers captioning information to Vuzix Blade AR smart glasses running Birket’s Android-based inThrall app. The smart glasses worn by guests sense the nearest parade float or attraction zone and overlay text without obscuring guests’ views. The easy-to-implement solution requires no configuration by the operations staff.
“inThrall can also work in multiple languages so non-English speakers can enjoy the full experience of a parade or ride,” notes Fox. “And the best thing about the app is that it’s hardware-agnostic. It can run on any Android device, so you can have an in-ride tablet or carry a tablet into a theater.”
“Birket made inThrall way better than I ever thought it could be,” says Harkless. “Sometimes if you do something by yourself you don’t feel a real sense of accomplishment unless you have someone to share it with. That’s what made creating inThrall with Birket such fun.”