Disney’s R&D labs, better known as the Imagineering team, are doing extremely impressive – and expressive – things with robots. It is made mechanical stunt doubles, lifelike alien Na’vi, and, uh, this skinless weirdo. But the company’s latest creation looks like it literally walked out of a Disney movie. It is a bipedal Groot that can roam freely. As Disney’s Pinocchio would put it, he’s not in control.
TechCrunchis Matthew Panzarino has the low-down on this robotic milestone for Disney. It’s part of the company’s long-term effort to develop autonomous robotic actors for its parks, says Panzarino, codenamed ‘Project Kiwi’. The company’s engineers spent years creating their own freestanding two-legged robotics platform to power Groot, and Panzarino – who got to see the robot in person – was impressed with their efforts.
“The corridor is smooth, the arms swing lifelike and the feet plant realistic. The body swings exactly as you would expect it to. There is no other way to say it, it swings’, he writes about the robot Groot. “The pint-sized character has accurately rendered textures on his face, hands and feet. It is dressed in a distressed red flight suit that you may remember from the movies. And his eyes are expressive when he looks at me and waves. ”
You can see it for yourself below (but if your browser blocks embedded YouTube videos, there is a direct link to the right here):
What Disney has done can withstand the output of any industrial or academic lab (pun intended). Engineers have been working on bipedal robots for decades, but their creations are generally too unreliable or brittle to work in the real world. Honda’s groundbreaking Asimo robot was retired in 2018 without ever leaving the lab, while Boston Dynamics’ Atlas can jump and jump back, but only if there are enough crash mats around.
To be clear, Disney’s Project Kiwi isn’t ready for a meet and greet at Walt Disney World just yet. As Panzarino reports, “I don’t expect to see this in the wild anytime soon, there is still a lot of work to be done on the way Kiwi works and interacts with people and WDI has no immediate plans for it in the parks. “But it still looks pretty close.
TechCrunch notes that the robot has only one cable to provide live instructions, as well as a 45-minute battery life and built-in speakers for interactions with nearby people (although in Groot’s case, dialogue options are certainly limited). For more technical details and Project Kiwi background, I recommend reading TechCrunch‘s full report.