Last April it was reported that Disney was in the final stages of working out a deal to bring autonomous shuttle vehicles to Walt Disney World. However, according to new findings from Jalopnik the project was “doomed” before initial reports even surfaced.
The source of this project going south stems from a dispute between Meridian Autonomous and Phoenix Wings, two companies that were working together as of 2016 to bring autonomous shuttle vehicles to Walt Disney World. According to these court records that Jalopnik dug up the two companies agreed to “form a partnership to pursue commercial opportunities.” Unfortunately, things fell apart just days before the two companies were supposed to demo their combined efforts to Disney. This dispute led to litigation over trade secret theft, a case that is still ongoing today.
These court documents also reveal that Disney had hopes to utilize this driverless shuttle service to deploy over 100 vehicles at Walt Disney World.
Meridian claims that Phoenix Wings scammed them out of intellectual property and millions of dollars worth of business deals. Meridian is now suing Phoenix for $70 million in damages.
Of course Phoenix Wings has a different view, as the company claims that Meridian initially offered to acquire Phoenix in 2016. However, Meridian sent a final deal in spring 2017 that Phoenix declined, claiming that the original terms of the deal had been greatly altered.
So what does this mean for Disney? Well, it looks like Disney is still interested in bringing driverless shuttle vehicles to the vacation capital of the world. Orlando Weekly reports that Disney believes that they can still bring this service to their resort in some form, although details on this are scarce at the moment. Neither Disney, Meridian, Phoenix Wings, or Coast Autonomous (who ended up acquiring Phoenix’s autonomous vehicle intellectual property) have responded to comments on the matter.
While driverless shuttle vehicles may not be coming to Disney World in the near future, Disney is of course expanding transportation throughout the resort with the Disney Skyliner.
To learn more about the behind the scenes of the Meridian and Phoenix Wings dispute, read the full Jalopnik article here.