Disney is famous for their animatronics but with the Project Kiwi they finally managed to pull a miracle: they literally brought Kid Groot to life as a robot.
Part of the Disney Imagineering Project Kiwi initiative, this project was started back in 2018 with the goal to create a life size, fully convincing robot – and they picked Groot for it.
Thank heavens for that, since no one could handle another creepy, uncanny valley type of situation like this!
According to a TechCrunch report, this bipedal robot seems to have stepped directly out of the movies, walking naturally and using a single discreet cable.
Project Kiwi wants to create robotic actors that will one day greet Disney theme park guests and interact with them naturally, bringing the magic of Disney even closer to real life.
Right now, even though Groot the Robot walks naturally and has some fantastic expressions, it’s not really ready to meet audiences.
For that, the makers need to build a sturdier robot capable of handling all types of interactions – think hugging, since a child rushing to greet Groot might very well topple it.
The current robot can also go for only 45 minutes on a charge as well, so the battery life will need improvement.
The Disney root is all custom made, using a “marrow conduit” cooling system that circulates air through the hollow bones. To achieve the cable-free look, Disney engineers distributed the electronics around the skeleton on individual PCBs with ribbon flex cables.
A TechCrunch reporter talked to those engineers, who revealed the amount of innovation involved in both the hardware, with custom-built actuators, and the software, with walking commands that translate into movements that communicate Groot’s “mood”
The bottom layer is an IK-style gait system that keeps Kiwi upright and walking, but then layering the personalities on top adds character to the walk while still maintaining stability. Bouncy, jaunty walks, limps, sad or downhearted walks, all with the other motions of arms and head contributing to a constantly shifting center of mass and momentum. The paddling duck’s feet under the water is that gait system that takes the external inputs and integrates it into the walk naturally,” says TechCrunch.
What does that look like?
“One moment he is bouncing along swinging his arms jauntily, clearly happy to be there. Then the next moment his arms are slumped, his head is hung and he is slowly plodding — clearly sad to be leaving the fun behind,” they explain.
The results are certainly amazing!