Theme Park Tech: Disney Moves Toward the Next Generation of Air-Powered Animatronics

October 9, 2014, 5:19 PM · Check out the latest from Disney Research: an air-powered "animatronic" arm.

Here's why this is a big deal: Traditional animatronics use heavy motors and/or potentially leaky hydraulics. That makes it difficult to craft an animatronic that's not only lifelike in its movements, but light enough not to consume large amounts of energy, not to create substantial wear and tear and to be able to be used safely in close proximity to human guests.

This article explains the technology behind the prototype that Disney demonstrated in the video above. The specs?

They say the new version... has a torque density that is equal to or better than a highly geared servo motor, and much better in terms of power density because of its high speed. It can deliver 4.5 Nm of continuous torque, has a range-of-motion of 135 degrees, and weighs 120 grams.

In non-tech-speak: "it’s likely that a system like this will show up in next-generation animatronics that not only perform to an audience but also interact closely with people."

Replies (9)

October 9, 2014 at 5:28 PM · so we should get ready to see this used in Avatar as well as the DHS expansion?
October 9, 2014 at 5:34 PM · Let's put it this way: If all Disney is using this for is to test the durability of MagicBands, I'm gonna be ticked.
October 9, 2014 at 7:43 PM · It looks like they finally were able to succeed at the one thing that always seemed to be what animatronics were lacking: starting and stopping. I think it was called Sarcos technology, but it what makes the Wicked Witch and the Auctioneer to stop their arms from jerking around.
October 9, 2014 at 8:20 PM · The long term fix for the Yeti?
October 9, 2014 at 8:31 PM · What I'm not seeing in this demonstration is an automated process. It seems now simply to be a way for the mechanical arm to mimic the activity of the person manipulating the "twin" arm. I guess you could use the lighter remote arm in the guest area and an automated "original" in some more secured location. But perhaps there's a more elegant solution that I'm missing.
October 9, 2014 at 11:52 PM · I hope this won't blow if introduced. It would be great if Disney uses this on a ride that takes my breath away. I will give them some air to develop this further and hope this will blow some fresh air trough their attractions.
October 10, 2014 at 5:43 AM · Wow. I went to NY's Maker Faire last year (missed the latest one, Disney was the lead sponsor of both), and they showed some other amazing technology. It's incredible--and a bit creepy--how lifelike these robots seem to be. Hope to see this used in some interesting, immersive way.
October 10, 2014 at 6:27 AM · Nice technology, but much implementation left out, thus the secrets are not revealed. No idea how the source of movements are done. Suggests they could either be people as in puppeteers or hidden motors. The attractions need a hidden source, which takes up valuable real estate. If source at base of animatronics, then that's where it gets complicated. A full sized animatronic figure would be a sight to behold.
October 11, 2014 at 6:58 AM · I would love to see this put to use in GMR,Mansion and pirates

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