The Wall-E like robot (image: Disney)
Author profile picture

Disney is working on fully robotic entertainment. The lovable new robots, brought to life by Disney Research in Zurich, are designed with specialised walking styles and can express emotions through their movements. These robots are able to maintain balance even in challenging terrains. Disney’s ability to deploy these robots has been dramatically streamlined, with production now taking months rather than years. The robots, which were recently showcased at the 2023 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, are part of Disney’s ongoing efforts to create robots with human-like body language and personality.

  • Animation and robotics seamlessly blend to create lifelike and stable robotic characters.
  • A hardware-agnostic platform and 3D printing streamline production, allowing rapid deployment.
  • Disney’s advancements in emotive robots hint at future theme park interactions and entertainment possibilities.

Bringing characters to life

Disney’s latest robots are not merely utilitarian machines, but expressive characters brought to life, embodying the magic and charm that the company is known for. These robots, which have been developed by Disney Research in Zurich, are designed with specialised walking styles that mimic those of beloved Disney characters. They are capable of maintaining their balance in challenging terrains and can even express emotions through their movements.

These droids are not just about the physical aspect; they are a perfect blend of science and art. Their ability to express emotions through body language is a significant breakthrough in robotics. As Georg Wiedebach, a senior R&D Imagineer at Disney Research, pointed out, “Conveying emotion and intent can be an important feature… valuable in other applications where robots are working next to people”.

Seamless integration of animation and robotics

Disney’s new robots are a testament to the seamless integration of character animation with bipedal robotics. Animators work hand-in-hand with the roboticists to ensure that expressive movement does not compromise the robot’s stability. The robots mimic behaviours, such as head tilting and antenna rotation, to appear friendly and appealing.

This harmonious blend of animation and robotics is made possible by a system developed by Disney Research. This system incorporates stylised movements designed by animators into the robot’s motion controls through machine reinforcement learning. As a result, the robots can walk with unique gaits and display distinct body language traits.

Revolutionising the production process

Disney’s new robotics platform is designed to be hardware agnostic, allowing developers to apply the same principles to different characters. This feature significantly accelerates the production process, enabling Disney to develop new robotic characters in just months, a dramatic reduction from the years it previously took.

3D printing plays a crucial role in this streamlined process. The robots are mostly 3D printed, which allows for the quick creation and assembly of parts. This rapid production process enables Disney to swiftly deploy these robotic characters in various settings.

Future prospects

Disney’s recent advancements in robotics are a promising sign of things to come. The company’s ability to create expressive and emotive robots opens up a realm of possibilities for the entertainment industry and beyond. It’s not hard to imagine a future where Disney’s animated characters walk, talk, and interact with guests in the company’s theme parks.

However, Disney has not yet revealed specific plans for employing these live-action robots in their theme parks. But given the rapid progress in this field, it might not be long before we see these charming robots making their public debut.