Developed Disney’s R&D Labs, known as Team Imagineering, are a group of different robots, and the lab’s latest invention is the Groot robot, which appears to have come out of a Disney movie.
Groot is part of the company’s long-term effort to develop autonomous robotic characters for its parks, under the codename Project Kiwi.
The company’s engineers spent years creating their two-legged, stand-alone robotics platform to power the Groot robot.
As a result of more than three years of work, there is a small robot that can move and work on its own and take the form of many different characters, including Groot.
The robot is described as having a smooth gait and arms that swing in a vibrant way, while the feet move in a realistic way, and competes with what Disney did the outputs of any industrial or academic laboratory.
Engineers have been working on biped robots for decades, but their innovations are generally unreliable or too weak to operate in the real world.
Honda’s flagship Asimo robot was retired in 2018 without ever leaving the lab, while the Atlas from Boston Dynamics can jump and turn but it requires a lot of help.
With Project Kiwi, the Imagineering team set out to create an automated robot that could someday interact with Disney theme park guests and make them feel as though they are facing their favorite characters.
Groot has only one cable to provide direct instruction, plus a 45-minute battery life and built-in speakers for interacting with nearby humans.
And when the team started working on the project, there weren’t any robots to do the job, so they started building their own robots.
The majority of Project Kiwi’s components are custom-built and incorporate some clever design features. For example, the robot has a hollow skeleton that allows circulating air to cool its engines.
And while the robot appears to be a hack in many ways, don’t expect to see it in the Disney park anytime soon, and the Imagineering team said: It still has a lot of work to do before Project Kiwi leaves the lab.
An upcoming focus area is a new set of engines that make the robot better equipped to handle sudden interactions, such as a child running into a hug, that could bring it down.
The team is also working on a set of new sensors that allow the robot to better understand the world and identify human faces.