Beating the Uncanny Valley: Disney's New Animatronic Stares Into Your Soul

Beating the Uncanny Valley: Disney’s New Animatronic Stares Into Your Soul

The Uncanny Valley is the feeling you get when robotic objects try to imitate living beings, especially humans and don’t quite hit the mark. In most cases, what gives them away is the cold gaze and unnatural facial expressions. Disney is hoping to overcome that “uncanny” feeling with its newest audio-animatronics human bust that stares right into your soul… like a human.

Disney’s animatronics figures have been the cherry on top of their themed park cake, so to speak. Marvels of technology, the robots have brought entire worlds alive, even though we all knew exactly what we were looking at – machines.

Well, soon we might have a harder time distinguishing between robot and human.

Disney Research, in collaboration with California Institute Of Technology and the University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign, has just unveiled their latest progress in that field: an audio-animatronics human bust that mimics human-like eye gaze and head movements.

Right now, stripped of flesh and other props, there’s no doubt we are looking at a machine. However, once it starts tilting its head, blinking, and breathing, it’s hard not to be impressed by its likeness to human behavior.

When it starts looking at you, you will get even more unnerved. Why? Well, it’s able to copy the intensity of the human gaze and its particularities. For example, the robot will look at you differently when it reads, glances, engages, or acknowledges.

Just like a human being, its gaze will shift, so it won’t maintain perfect eye contact. The fluctuation in gaze intensity depends on the movements the camera sensor situated on its torso detects.

“Given the importance of gaze in social interactions as well as its ability to communicate states and shape perceptions, it is apparent that gaze can function as a significant tool for an interactive robot character,” the study explains.

The eye gaze implementation Disney Research has worked on is an integral part of their greater goal to enhance robots until they are able to give the “illusion of life”, basically trick visitors into thinking they are actual human beings. I mean, who wouldn’t want to step into a themed park and feel like they’ve never left reality at all?

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