STUNT ROBOTS

Disney is developing high-flying stunt robots for its parks

Animatronic Na’vi Shaman in Disney World’s Pandora—World of Avatar.
Animatronic Na’vi Shaman in Disney World’s Pandora—World of Avatar.
Image: AP Photo/John Raoux
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In Disney movies, heroes soar, swing, stretch, and toss hammers and shields that always hit their marks. But in its parks, Disney’s animatronic characters, while uncannily convincing and interactive, mostly just… sit there.

Disney’s new high-flying, animatronic stunt robots could change that. Developed by Disney Imagineers, the team that designs and builds Disney’s theme parks resorts, and attractions, the new robots can be flung through the air, perform aerial stunts, and stick their landings, every time, TechCrunch reports.

“The realization we came to after seeing where our characters are going on screen, whether they be Star Wars characters, or Pixar characters, or Marvel characters or our own animation characters, is that they’re doing all these things that are really, really active,” Tony Dohi, a lead Imagineer, tells TechCrunch. “That becomes the expectation our park guests have that our characters are doing all these things on screen—but when it comes to our attractions, what are our animatronic figures doing? We realized we have kind of a disconnect here.”

The secret of the “Stuntronics” project, as it’s called, is a system of “accelerometer and gyroscope arrays” that control the way the robots spin, and laser rangefinders, which determine their distance to an object. The self-correcting system allows the autonomous robots to control their pose, rotation, and center of mass to land aerial stunts on target. Imagine an animatronic Thor, with the help of his hammer, or one of the heroes from The Incredibles, soaring through the air and making a perfect superhero landing right on cue.

The stunt robots could one day step in for the more lifelike animatronic robots in Disney parks, such as the Na-vi shaman in Disney World’s Avatar theme park, during action-packed scenes. Disney has been working to make its attractions more realistic, allowing park-goers to feel as though they’re truly immersed other worlds.

Disney Imagineers develop lots of technology and sometimes it takes years before they’re brought to parks—if it all.

The media giant recently rolled out another innovation in its parks. A smartphone app with games, interactive experiences, trivia, and other features to make waiting in line more entertaining.