Stuntronics robot display

Disneyland prepares to welcome superhero ‘Stuntronics’ humanoid stunt robots

Image credit: Disney Research

Engineers at Disney Research have developed a highly sensitive “robot stunt double” capable of performing superhuman stunts, such as being fired into the air, posing and landing safely.

In May, Disney announced that it had developed a basic robotic aerial artist nicknamed “Stickman”. This robot was a far simpler design, with just two degrees of freedom and a number of sensors. It was capable of swinging on the end of a pendulum launch, then being released and folding itself to perform somersaults, before uncurling to land on a soft landing pad.

Now, the engineers have presented a more sophisticated and humanoid version of the robotic aerialist, capable of performing mid-air stunts, continually correcting its posture throughout the moves and landing feet first. This class of robots has been named “Stuntronics” by Disney.

A sample Stuntronics robot revealed by Disney is fitted with an on-board accelerometer, gyroscope array and laser range finding for precision.

This hardware allows it to perform more complex tricks, including throwing itself into the air, performing multiple somersaults and posing like a classic superhero before landing in the correct spot feet first, unlike its more unstable predecessor.

While Disney will continue to use professional stunt performers and CGI for their films, it is likely that Stuntronics will find a place at Disney’s visitor attractions, according to Disney engineers speaking to TechCrunch.

Animatronic characters have always played a role in Disney’s theme parks and resorts; Disneyland’s original Pirates of the Caribbean ride – which went on to inspire the enormously profitable film series starring Johnny Depp – featured 53 audio-animatronic animals and 75 audio-animatronic people performing simple looping motions. Stuntronics could allow for far more mobile and impressive animatronic features than currently available in animatronic-augmented Disney rides, many of which are decades old.

Disney engineers suggested that these Stuntronics characters could be dressed up to help entertain audiences at Disney attractions alongside human entertainers (such as those who painstakingly assume the roles of popular Disney characters to interact with visitors). It is possible that Stuntronics robots could perform the role of non-human Disney characters, such as Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear or Big Hero 6’s Baymax.

Disney engineers told TechCrunch that they could imagine human actors being replaced with Stuntronics stunt artists at Disneyland shows, just before they need to leap high into the air.

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