Disney’s latest patent application illuminates an interesting challenge in the robotics realm: realistic bipedal robots and locomotion. Over the years, “great strides” have been achieved in bipedal robot technologies, allowing robots to navigate new terrains and various activities similar to the way humans do. Companies like Honda, Boston Dynamics, and PAL Robotics continue to develop and improve upon cutting-edge robotics, geared at solving human and service needs. However, these particular bipedal technologies lack in one major area crucial to the entertainment industry- a passable lifelike appearance.
About the Patent Application
This week the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a Disney patent application regarding the locomotion of a bipedal robot using secondary force generators to assist in stability and balance control.
According to the application’s description, “bipedal locomotion, which may include walking and running, is one of the hardest challenges facing engineers in the robotics industry. While the issue of bipedal locomotion is of great interest to a host of academic researchers and some businesses, their target use cases are so different from those faced by robot designers for more controlled or controllable environments, such as entertainment venues including theme and amusement parks, that the two sets of designers are facing two different problems. Traditional robotics is attempting to make robots capable of traversing the entire world or any terrain and its obstacles while robot designers for entertainment venues and environments are often trying to create a robot system that can traverse a known and/or designed environment perfectly (e.g., with movements that replicate those of a well-known character, with movements that are robustly safe, and the like).”
In Disney’s bipedal patent application, the inventors seek to improve on the traditional balance control of bipedal robots by adding additional systems that can help to provide the forces needed to keep the robot balanced. Through the integration of these systems into the robot it provides additional means of keeping the robot balanced independent from the movement of the robot. Systems like embedded body fans, electromagnetic feet with ferrous floors, or clamping of the robot’s feet to a support surface provide the needed independent force generation for the robot to remain balanced while in operation.
WHAT THE INVENTION WOULD DO
Most other bipedal robots rely on the redistribution of weight to control their center of gravity, whether it be through movement of various extremities or an internal mass damper. These types of balancing systems are limited by the robots ability to redistribute that weight fast enough to keep the robot upright. With the addition of the independent force generators robots have a predictable and controllable means of staying upright beyond the physical movement of the robot.
SEE The Technology in action
WHY THIS PATENT IS INTERESTING
Disney notes that “there remains a need for new robot system designs that provide robust locomotion of bipedal robots used in the entertainment industry, with the understanding these new designs may then be used for more diverse robot applications such as service robots that may interact with humans (or human clients, in some cases).”
The method described in this patent might not be the most efficient means of controlling a robot, but when robots are used in performance situations, like theme parks, the aesthetics of the movement can be more important than the overall efficiency. Such embodiments such as a ferrous stage and robots with integrated electromagnetic feet could be used to provide the illusion of human-like movement. Currently, robots have to be permanently anchored into the ground to achieve superhuman-type movements. The development of a system that enables robots to be mobile while still retaining the ability to be properly anchored would be a clear improvement to what is currently available on the market. It is interesting seeing such an entertainment-focused company innovating in such a high-tech environment and pushing the technology of robot movement control forward, but this technology is sure to be used to bring a little extra magic to Disney’s attractions.
DISNEY’S ROBOTIC ADVANCEMENTS FOR ENTERTAINMENT
Bipedal motion is not the only latest robotic advancement for Disney. Below are a few recent examples of the company’s groundbreaking robot technologies geared towards entertainment and guest interaction.
Robots with Versatile Inverse Kinematic Loops:
In February, the Disney Research Studios, a network of research labs supporting The Walt Disney Company, released a video detailing a versatile Inverse Kinematics (IK) formulation that can be used to program a robot for replicating a motion.
Robots with Lifelike Gaze Interatics
In 2020, the Disney Research Studios also shared a video on a system that creates lifelike gazing behaviors and interactions for animatronics.
In 2018, The Walt Disney Company also released a video and article on its 90 lb Stuntronics acrobatic robot capable of various complex acrobatic stunts.
Written by John DeStefano, Technical Advisor
and Lauren Hawksworth, Marketing Administrator
April 22, 2021