Animatronics are set to become a lot more lifelike if Disney's new robot is anything to go by. The company's research arm has developed a machine that can move with human-like precision thanks to new type of transmission technology.
Disney's telepresence robot is equipped with a hybrid transmission that uses a combination of air and liquid. The air-filled pneumatics allows for higher degrees of freedom in the robot's joints, meanwhile the liquid-filled hydraulic lines keep the limbs rigid.
A human operator uses a set of wired controls to move the robot's limbs, while viewing a live video feed from cameras mounted to the robot's "head" via a virtual reality headset. As a result, the robot is able to replicate the movements of its operator with needle-like precision (it can literally thread a needle), handle and egg without breaking it and interact playfully with a child – again, without breaking it. The robot its even seen deftly playing a glockenspiel at one point in the video.
Disney, which is also heavily involved in virtual reality and 3D printing, developed the technology as part of its efforts to make robots more human-friendly. Based on the "Jimmy" named tag sported by the robot in the test, it looks like Disney eventually wants to get the technology in front of visitors to its theme parks in the form of kid-friendly, robo-mascots.
Of course, a lot more work needs to be done before then. For one thing, the Disney needs to test the technology in front of more "human subjects" (their words, not ours), as well as find a way of making the whole process automated. Still, the prospect of a fully-interactive Wall-E leads us to believe the wait will be worth it.
You can read all the tasty technical info on Disney's research project here, and check out its latest breakthrough in action in the video below.