Disney’s animatronics are coming a long way from drunken pirates waving flagons of ale or hippos that wiggle their ears. In the (relatively) near future, robotic versions of Iron Man or Buzz Lightyear could be performing autonomous acrobatics overhead in Disney theme parks, thanks to the newly-unveiled Stuntronics robot.
Animatronic characters have populated Disney parks for more than half a century, albeit often just looping a specific movement over and over. In recent years Disney Research has tried to make the robots more agile and interactive, developing versions that can grab objects more naturally, and even juggle and play catch with visitors.
Back in May the company unveiled a prototype called Stickman. Basically a mechanical stick with two degrees of freedom, the robot could be flicked into the air like a trapeze artist, where it used a suite of sensors to tuck and roll in midair, perform a couple of backflips, and unfurl for landing.