Elements of HBO’s Westworld, about a theme park filled with robots that are too real for comfort, could someday exist in the real world. (As it stands, the TV show’s premise is not too far off.) Disney wants to bring that a step closer.
But its aspirations, as ever, are much more wholesome than what others might have in mind. Disney has filed a US patent application for a “humanoid” robot that’s soft and sturdy enough to interact with people, and particularly, children at its family-friendly parks.
The robot described in the patent application has soft, squeezable skin that supports “playful physical interaction,” posable joints, and pressure sensors that “sense contact and provide protection to the child and robot while interacting.” Disney’s droids are meant to be “huggable and interactive,” so that children at the park could play with them in a fun and safe manner, according to the filing.
And their parts will be 3D printed.
The robots could bring a whole new level of interactivity to Disney parks, where the company has talked about replicating familiar characters, like the animated chameleon Pascal from Tangled, with robotics and artificial intelligence.
Disney researchers Alexander Alspach, Joohyung Kim, and Katsu Yamane tested the design with a small “toy-sized” robot, which they outlined in a November 2015 paper. It was accompanied by a video that showed how the robot could hug and grasp objects, pose, and mirror movements.
Disney filed the patent application in February 2016 and it was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office last week.
The entertainment conglomerate applies for a lot of patents. Many of the ideas never make it off the page, but they are often remarkably cool. Last summer, it applied for a patent for lightsabers that look and feel real. And Disney’s bet on Magic Bands that track its customers’ every move and can be used to pay for things now seems prophetic.