There is more to Disney than just magic, as there is science behind it, as well. And now Disney Research, an international network of research labs designed to "push the scientific and technological forefront of innovation" at the company, is developing technology that may one day replace the people inside your favorite Disney characters seen around theme parks with robots.
This is thanks to a new telepresence robot that is capable of mimicking a human's motions with such precision that it can even thread a needle.
"We present a new type of hydrostatic transmission that uses a hybrid air-water configuration, analogous to N+1 cable-tendon transmissions, using N hydraulic lines and 1 pneumatic line for a system with N degrees of freedom (DOFs)," Disney Research said in a press release.
For those unaware, telepresence robots are not autonomous, rather they rely on a nearby human to control it. Quite simply, its the easiest way for a robot to move with the same level of dexterity as a human. With that in mind, this technology is not new by any of stretch of the imagination. For example, the technology has been used in the past to allow robotic figures to attend school in place of a sick student.
What is new, however, is Disney's spin on this already-existing tech. The telepresence robot makes use of a new hybrid air and water hydraulics system that allows its arms to more closely mirror the movement of a human operator, as well as provide near-instantenous physical feedback, allowing for finer control.
As an added bonus, the robot has increased response and precision due to using half as many cables throughout the robots body, which reduces both its weight and overall size.
Stereo cameras on the robot's head provide real-time feedback to an operator who's wearing a head-mounted display, allowing him or her to manipulate the arms without seeing what the machine is actually doing.
Accompanying Disney's press release is a video showing the robot playing a xylophone, picking up and then cracking an egg, patting a girl's cheeks, playing catch with a baloon and even threading string through the eye of a needle.
"The current hydraulic robot offers incredibly smooth and fast motion, while maintaining backdrivability and bidirectional force reflection, allowing safe interaction with people, and the handling of delicate objects," the researchers added.
However, even with this innovation, there are still some limitations. The dexterity and preciseness that these robots have come at a price, which is that the operators must be relatively nearby since the controls they use are directly connected to the machine. So while this technology can't be applied to inspecting a nuclear power plant post-meltdown, it would be right at home at a Disney theme park.
Check out the robot in action below: