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Disney has built humanoid 'stuntbots' to take over from actors

por Minnie Chomley (2020-07-20)


Walt Disney Studios is developing humanoid robots to serve as stunt doubles in some of its latest blockbusters, which include the likes of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar.

Known as 'stuntbots', the robots could also be used in live theatre shows at Walt Disney owned theme parks and resorts.

Stuntronics are autonomous, self-correcting aerial performers capable of making on-the-go corrections during high-flying stunts to ensure they also land safely. 

The latest robots are being developed by Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development in Los Angeles, California

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Walt Disney Studios creates cinematic wonders such as Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar and uses a mixture of human actors, stunt doubles and CGI to bring them to life.

It is now adopting android actors as it refines 'stuntbots' (picture) that will feature in films and amusement parks.

The robot (pictured) is fitted with an on-board accelerometer and gyroscope that allow it to know where it is using laser technology.

These features enable the bot to stay stable in the air after being sent air by wires and pulleys

Tony Dohi, principal research and development Imagineer and Morgan Pope, associate research scientist at Disney, discussed the project and its implications in an interview with 'Whether they be Star Wars characters, or Pixar characters, or Marvel characters or our own animation characters, it is that they're doing all these things that are really, really active. 

'So that becomes the expectation our park guests have - that our characters are doing all these things on screen. RELATED ARTICLES



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'When it comes to our attractions, what are our animatronic figures doing? We realised we have kind of a disconnect here.' The idea is to recreate the incredible scenes regularly depicted in films, without endangering a stunt actor's life.To make these cinematic stunts possible, the robot is fitted with an on-board accelerometer and gyroscope that allow it to know its positioning at all times using laser technology.These features enable the bot to keep itself stable - even as it is propelled into the sky by a series of wires and pulleys.This means the robot can execute and land flamboyant manoeuvres, all whilst maintaining an iconic superhero pose. The robot can execute and land flamboyant manoeuvres, all whilst maintaining a superhero pose Whilst the acrobatic androids provide aerial entertainment, the Imagineering department is also working on hyper-realistic animatronics to replicate facial movement and terrestrial locomotionWhile the acrobatic androids are designed to provide aerial entertainment, the Imagineering department is also working on hyper-realistic animatronics to replicate facial movement and terrestrial locomotion.In live shows, a swift change between the two robots can provide a flawless show without endangering human life.'So often our robots are in the uncanny valley where you got a lot of function, but it still doesn't look quite right,' says Dr Pope.'And I think here the opposite is true.'When you're flying through the air, you can have a little bit of function and you can produce a lot of stuff that looks pretty good, because of this really neat physics opportunity — you've got these beautiful kinds of parabolas and sine waves that just kind of fall out of rotating and spinning through the air in ways that are hard for people to predict, but that look fantastic.'The project is the third generation of the technology, as the researchers at Disney continue to develop its capabilities and applications. Originally, Walt Disney had a project called Brick ( Robotic Inertially Controlled bricK) in development, which consisted of a metal brick packed with a plethora of sensors.Brick had the ability to change its centre of mass, allowing the developers to fully predict the object's orientation at any given point during its trajectory through the air.Whilst it might not sound like much, this ability gave rise to the robotic equivalent of 'sticking the landing', and birthed the entire field of robotic stunt doubles.After Brick came Stickman, a project which elaborated on the technology and allowed for more sophisticated control to the rotation and orientation of the device.Combined with laser rangefinders and a humanoid shape, there was a vague resemblance to a real-life acrobat.  'Morgan and I got together and said, maybe there's something here, we're not really sure.

But let's poke at it in a bunch of different directions and see what comes out of it,' said Mr Dohi.Progress on the project has been swift.'When we did the Brick, I thought that was pretty cool,' said Dr Pope. The project is the third generation of the technology, as the researchers at Disney continue to develop its capabilities and applications In live shows, using robots reduces the risk to human life and by using the human-like androids, the show can be as flamboyant as needed whilst not endangering human life'By the time I was presenting the Brick at a conference, Tony [Dohi] had helped us make Stickman. And I was like, well, this isn't cool anymore. 'The Stickman is what's really cool.

And then I was down in Australia presenting Stickman and I knew we were doing the full Stuntronic back at R&D. 'I was like, well, this isn't cool anymore.'But it has been so much fun. Every step of the way I think oh, this is blowing my mind. 'But, they just keep pushing…so it's nice to have that challenge.'The end-goal might still be a little blurry, but the project is taking shape.Dr Pope said: 'One of our goals of Stuntronics is to see if we can leap across the uncanny valley.'