Walt Disney Imagineering manages to cramp a humanoid robot into a Groot Suit. The crazy engineers there have been working on Project Kiwi for the last three years to develop a dynamic untethered humanoid robot that’s an interactive character at the same time.
It is not an easy task to accomplish as it involves a number of technologies involved when it comes to animatronic robotics. When it comes to animatronics it is much more character-driven and robots are not autonomously interactive.
Disney Imagineering designed Project Kiwi, an untethered bipedal humanoid robot. It was designed not only to walk without falling over but also to be able to do the same while walking with some other character. Kiwi stands 0.75 meters tall and is a little bigger than NAO and slightly smaller than iCub.
Considering its size it can operate quite efficiently for 45 minutes and enjoys 50 degrees of freedom to perform lifelike moves.
The current version is a prototype and will undergo a number of upgrades in terms of hardware optimization to improve its efficiency, sensing powers, and interactivity.
Kiwi has not been developed by Disney to be a stage robot, instead, we can expect to see him move around and interact directly with park guests.
Disney fears will be the level of interaction where there will be a substantial risk of small children trying to hug the robot, it will not be easy to build one with this level of sophistication.
Earlier when Universal Studios showcased Steampunk Spot, they managed to put a fence along with a row of potted plants between it, to keep a safe distance between any potential hugs. It will be safe to say Spot is not a hug-safe robot.
How they designed a humanoid robot?
According to Scott LaValley, Project Kiwi lead said,
First and foremost, we had to consider the packaging constraints. Our robot was always intended to serve as a bipedal character platform capable of taking on the role of a variety of our small-size characters. While we can sometimes take artistic liberties, for the most part, the electromechanical design had to fit within a minimal character profile to allow the robot to be fully themed with shells, skin, and costuming. When determining the scope of the project, a high-performance biped that matched our size constraints just did not exist.
Equally important was the ability to move with style and personality, or the “emotion of motion.” To really capture a specific character performance, a robotic platform must be capable of motions that range from fast and expressive to extremely slow and nuanced. In our case, this required developing custom high-speed actuators with the necessary torque density to be packaged into the mechanical structure. Each actuator is also equipped with a mechanical clutch and inline torque sensor to support low-stiffness control for compliant interactions and reduced vibration.
Designing custom hardware also allowed us to include additional joints that are uncommon in humanoid robots. For example, the clavicle and shoulder alone include five degrees of freedom to support a shrug function and an extended configuration space for more natural gestures. We were also able to integrate onboard computing to support interactive behaviors.
We hope we get to know more about Project Kiwi, as meeting a new humanoid robot is exciting and an approach that not only involves technical capabilities but also emphasizes on character and interaction, it is totally unique.