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28 Apr 2021

Disney sprinkles its magic on new robot animatronic
BY Tom Walker

Disney Imagineering has created a prototype robot, in form of the character Groot from the Marvel universe

Disney Imagineering has created a prototype robot, in form of the character Groot from the Marvel universe
photo: Disney Imagineering Research & Development

Disney Imagineers have revealed a free-roaming animatronic which could revolutionise experience design and the visitor experience in attractions.

Using advanced technology – and developed as part of Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development's "Project Kiwi" – the small-scale robotic actor can take on the role of a Disney character without the need for human actors.

The animatronic'ss tightly integrated design provides more than 50 degrees of freedom in a compact platform that can walk, gesture, and emote in style. Most components have been custom-made to meet size and weight requirements.

Walt Disney Imagineering said: "Using custom-authoring tools that combine whole-body motion planning and traditional character animation, artists can quickly bring robotic characters to life with expressive motions and interactive behaviors."

A prototype of "Project Kiwi" technology – in the form of the character Groot from the Marvel universe – was recently presented to the media and is currently being used to test unique traits, gait, and capabilities.

Disney’s deep knowledge of life-like animation has been used to inform the development of the prototype – with the software able to express a range of personalities through gait and posture.

Disney says the 2021 iteration of the animatronic can cope with environmental factors such as wind and uneven surfaces but is not yet ready to be fully deployed, so there are no immediate plans to use the technology in Disney's parks and the project remains in the lab for the time being.

The next stage of development will see Imagineers working on two additional pieces of functionality – actuators that will enable the robot to "handle sudden human interactions" and sensors that will enable it to identify human faces and interact appropriately.

Customising technology to register recognition for guests has long been a priority for Disney, as part of its philosophy of deep engagement.

Once ready for deployment, the robotic actor is expected to be manufactured to take the shape of any number of Disney's roster of child-size characters.

See a video of how Project Kiwi is evolving below.





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