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Robo-Mouse: Disney’s New Robots Walk Like Cartoon Characters

Robo-Mouse: Disney’s New Robots Walk Like Cartoon Characters
[Photo: courtesy of Disney Research]

When researchers created a robot that replicates the gait of a cartoon character for the first time, it was no big surprise that Disney was involved. Engineers at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) and Disney Research have unveiled a new project that could lead to everything from uncanny-valley robotic theme park characters to ultra-realistic, immersive environments: two-legged robots that replicate the walks of cartoon characters.

Katsu Yamane and his team at Disney Research, a Los Angeles- and Pittsburgh-based organization with close ties to CMU, unveiled the project for the first time at the IEEE International Conference on Robots and Automation in Spain. The two-legged robots can be programmed to replicate the walk of an animated character, and then be constructed to look just like that character.

One of the biggest problems Yamane and his fellow researchers faced was the fact that, well, cartoons don’t follow the laws of physics. “Designers don’t necessarily consider physics when they create an animated character,” Yamane said in a press statement. “It’s important that, despite physical limitations, we do not sacrifice style or the quality of motion,” he added.

Next up for Yamane and his fellow researchers, Disney’s Joohyung Kim and CMU’s Seungmoon Song, is a separate challenge: replicating the upper body motions of cartoon characters.

“Walking is where physics matter the most,” says Yamane. “If we can find a way to make the lower half work, we can use the exact same procedure for the upper body.”

Disney Research is known for employing some of the world’s best user interaction, robotics, and animation researchers. Other recent projects with applications for the consumer market include anthropomorphic robotic arms that replicate the muscle motion of human arms, and advertising displays made from swarms of tiny mobile robots.

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