Disney Develops Robot That Plays Catch and Juggles!

Posted by Tony on November 28th, 2012

When the Hall of Presidents attraction opened in Disneyland decades ago, the animatronics featured in it floored guests with their life-like movements. Disney became known for its animatronics in other attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and others. It was good ol’ Abe Lincoln, though that got a lot of attention…especially when he stood up.

But that was then.

Recently a video has surfaced on YouTube from a Disney R&D lab in Pittsburgh that hints at what they’ve been working on since then. Imagineers are now literally playing ball with a robot prototype that can track object movement and respond in real-time!

Being that this is just taking its baby-steps at this point, it both frightening and amazing to think about what Disney might have in the works for this type of interactivity with a robot and park guests.

From the video’s description:

Robots in entertainment environments typically do not allow for physical interaction and contact with people. However, catching and throwing back objects is one form of physical engagement that still maintains a safe distance between the robot and participants. Using an animatronic humanoid robot, we developed a test bed for a throwing and catching game scenario. We use an external camera system (ASUS Xtion PRO LIVE) to locate balls and a Kalman ?lter to predict ball destination and timing. The robot’s hand and joint-space are calibrated to the vision coordinate system using a least-squares technique, such that the hand can be positioned to the predicted location. Successful catches are thrown back two and a half meters forward to the participant, and missed catches are detected to trigger suitable animations that indicate failure. Human to robot partner juggling (three ball cascade pattern, one hand for each partner) is also achieved by speeding up the catching/throwing cycle. We tested the throwing/catching system on six participants (one child and ?ve adults, including one elderly), and the juggling system on three skilled jugglers.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t get bored of playing catch with the guests in the parks and decide one day to unbolt itself, head to Cinderella’s Castle and proclaim the Disney parks as the headquarters of our new robotic overlords!
[DisneyResearchHub]

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