For kids, the most magical thing about Disney theme parks is getting to interact with the characters they love from movies and TV shows. Of course, we know those characters are just cast members in big puffy body suits made to look like animated characters. However, the geniuses at Disney Imagineering have crafted new state-of-the-art bipedal animatronic technology that will make it so a character like Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy can walk around parks, wave at families, pose for pictures, and even have an impromptu dance party. See Disney’s animatronic Baby Groot in action below.
Disney Imagineering’s Animatronic Groot
TechCrunch learned all about this new animatronic technology that Disney Imagineers have been working on for the past three years. This is the next generation of animatronic technology that Disney has been leading up to after introducing the outstanding but stationary Hondo Ohnaka as part of the Smuggler’s Run attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the Na’vi Shaman from the Avatar theme park experience.
Under the codename Project Kiwi, Imagineers developed this bipedal animatronic platform, and they dressed it up as a real life Baby Groot, complete with textured face, hands and feet, a variety of facial expressions, and incredibly smooth, lifelike body movement. However, this technology won’t necessarily just take the form of Baby Groot. Project Kiwi can be used to bring a variety of characters to life when all is said and done. R&D Imagineer Principal Scott LaValley said:
“It’s an exciting time for bipedal robotics and with an incredible team and our combination of technology, artistry, and magic, we are bringing characters to life that could not have happened anywhere but Disney.”
The experience can go beyond the mere physical presence and body language of the character. The robotic body has a speaker installed that will allow for audio to come from the character for a truly immersive interaction. Even if kids are right next to the character, they won’t hear a bunch of loud robotic sounds of the inner-workings of the tech, because the noise of the animatronic is said to be very low. The only downside is that the battery power only supports roughly 45 minutes of walkaround time, something they’re hoping to improve upon as they continue to work on the project. And that’s where some disappointing news comes into play.
Unfortunately, this is all still a work in progress and there are no immediate plans to bring this animatronic to parks just yet, so don’t expect to see Groot or any other animatronic characters like this walking around as theme parks start to fill up with families again. But the good news is that Project Kiwi is already improving and planning ahead for park interaction.
The next step for Project Kiwi will be creating an updated skeleton that is lighter and moves more efficiently. Imagineers are also figuring out how to dynamically apply torque and sensing capabilities to allow for stability and reaction to uneven ground or interactions. After all, not all surfaces where this animatronic may walk will be perfectly flat, and plenty of kids will undoubtedly want to hug and lean on a character like Groot for pictures. Imagineers want to make sure he isn’t going to fall over and force parents into an uncomfortable discussion.
You can learn a lot more about the finer details of Project Kiwi over at TechCrunch.
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