For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with animatronics. I can remember being at an exhibit or amusement park of some sort that had giant animatronic dinosaurs littered around the landscape and I was simply fascinated with how they had been created. Of course as I got older the wonder started to subside slightly, replaced with a glorious bit of teenage angst, but my trip to Disneyland 2 years ago rekindled that interest thanks to a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room, an animatronics installation that’s over 4 decades old.
Disney has a pretty big interest in robotics as symbolized by their liberal use around their amusement park. What I didn’t know was that they had their own research and development division that’s responsible for the majority of the robots on the park, most of which were custom designed and built by them. Some of the things they’ve created are really impressive like this robot that’s able to play catch (and juggle!) with human participants:
The way they do it is very interesting and wasn’t what I was expecting. They use a Kinect like sensor, an ASUS Xtion PRO Live, as a motion tracker that can sense the ball’s position in real time. From that they use a couple well known mathematical principles to derive the trajectory and move the hand into position in order to catch it. Whilst it’s really only capable of catching balls thrown in a parabolic arc (this is an assumption based on the way they’ve got it operating, but I could be wrong) it’s still pretty darn good at it. Even better is when they speed it up which makes it able to juggle with a human player. It’d be pretty fun to get 2 of them together just to see how long they’d go before one of them dropped a ball.
Disneyland already had some pretty intriguing displays of robotics and this looks like it’ll be a pretty cool addition to their already impressive collection.