Disney Brings Robotic Stunt Double to “Life”
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on July 17, 2018 |

Anyone that has visited Disneyland, or a similar park or kid-oriented arcade, has most likely witnessed talking and singing—and somewhat creepy—animatronics that only move their arms, head and mouth. These stationary characters, some of which are decades old, are built to do exactly one thing over and over and over and…

That is about to change. Disney recently unveiled a new type of animatronic: a Stuntronic. In essence, the Stuntronic is a robotic stunt person that is autonomous and can self-correct as it performs aerial stunts. These robots can perform more aggressive feats that may be too difficult for humans. Plus, like animatronics of yore, they can do the same move over and over.

“It knows when to tuck its knees to perform a somersault, when to pull its arms to twist, and even when to slow down its spin to make sure it sticks that perfect landing,” the company said in a statement.

This flying stuntman making a superhero pose is actually a robotic Stuntronic. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney.)
This flying stuntman making a superhero pose is actually a robotic Stuntronic. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney.)

Stuntronics grew out of research by Disney that led to Binary Robotic Inertially Controlled bricK (BRICK). It was essentially a sensored, metal brick that could change its center of mass and control its rotation, resulting in the ability to precisely hit a targeted orientation and height. Its ability to “stick the landing” led to the development of Stickman, an enhanced version of the device that included laser rangefinders and could emulate acrobatic motions.

Stickman soon led to developing Stuntronics, a 90-pound human robot built for aerial performances. Its body has three sections and two flexible joints which allow it to form a tucked position through pneumatic cylinders operated by pressurized air. A microcontroller and two sensor systems help the robot determine what its body is doing while in the air.

It has on-board accelerometer and gyroscope arrays supported by laser range finding, giving it the ability to rotate and perform while also holding a pose in the air. Three lasers measure the distance to the ground, which allows the robot to make necessary calculations to account for different variables, such as air pressure or joint friction. This ensures that each performance is as perfect as the last one, also something that a human couldn’t guarantee.

“We’d like to do something that’s not just human, but beyond human,” said Morgan Pope, an associate research scientist with Disney Research. “The hope here is that we’re delivering something physical and tangible, as opposed to virtual and digital.”

Disney has not stated specific plans for the Stuntronic, but once they do, attendees will be sure to be awed.

Interested in more ways researchers are bringing robots to life? Check out New Bioinspired Robot Doesn’t Just Look Like a Fish—It Swims Like One and Dog-inspired Robot to Become Commercially Available Next Year

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