Walt Disney Imagineering’s newest industry-changing technology is “Project Kiwi.” As Matthew Panzarino from TechCrunch reports, this project is actually a free walking robot in the form of Guardian of the Galaxy‘s Groot.
Panzarino visited Walt Disney Imagineering in California to witness the robot walking around after three years of development.
The goal of Project Kiwi has been to develop a biped battery-powered robot that can free roam and interact with guests autonomously.
While the robot is currently Groot-shaped, Panzarino stresses that this robot could be used for any number of characters in Disney Parks. That being said, the project is still in development and probably won’t be seen in theme parks any time soon.
“Project KIWI started about three years ago to figure out how we can bring our smaller characters to life at their actual scale in authentic ways,” R&D Imagineer Scott LaValley said. “It’s an exciting time for bipedal robotics and with an incredible team and our combination of technology, artistry, and magic, we are bringing characters to life that could not have happened anywhere but Disney.”
If Project Kiwi does make it to theme parks, it would likely start in stage shows before moving to character meet-and-greets and later free-roaming. We’ve seen Baby Groot in the parks before, but nothing quite like this. He can definitely be compared to the Living Character Initiative that began with Lucky the Dinosaur back in 2005, a large animatronic who free-roamed Disney California Adventure, DinoLand U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Hong Kong Disneyland. The Muppets Mobile Lab five years ago also involved guest interaction with “living characters.” Other free-roaming “living characters”, such as WALL-E, never made it to the parks. Jake the droid, who was meant to appear in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, never made it past testing in Tomorrowland.
We hope that Groot and Project Kiwi are the next step in this initiative that will make free-roaming characters are more permanent feature of Disney Parks.
Watch a video of the development of this Groot robot and his current form below.
As seen in the video, Groot is currently operating with a safety tether and control cable for live programming, but the robot itself does not need support. It is able to free roam with a battery that currently lasts around 45 minutes.
A new lighter and more efficient version of the robot’s skeleton is already under development. The team is also working on “eyes” that would be able to recognize guests. Read more at TechCrunch.
A patent filed by Disney yesterday also seems to be connected to Groot’s bipedal technology. Here’s the patent’s abstract:
“A robot system with a robot configured for locomotion about a space using ground reaction force (GRF) to provide a first level of balancing. The robot system includes force generators located on or in the robot’s body or offboard in the space that act to generate balancing forces to provide a second level of balancing for the robot using non-conventional physics. For example, clamping of a robot’s feet are in contact with the support surface using electromagnets in the feet and a layer of ferrous material on the support surface or using mechanical coupling techniques to temporarily anchor the foot to the support surface. In other examples, a balance controller may process output of balance sensors and respond by generating control signals to operate force generators onboard the robot such as electric fans or inertial reaction wheels.”