We’ve all seen our fair share of animatronic characters in theme parks. Save for a few exceptions, almost all of them are obviously fake, even the ones made to look humanoid. Boston Dynamics may have ruined some people’s images of bipedpal and quadrupedal robots but, for many robotics engineers and scientists, the holy grail is still to produce a believable simulacrum. Disney’s Imagineering R&D arm may be finally close to that goal as it reveals its Project Kiwi platform that almost convincingly recreates the lovable character, Groot.
Robotics, especially when mixed with animatronics, have really come a long way. There are a few, especially at Disney’s theme parks, that have almost believable movements and facial expressions. They are, however, mostly stuck to where they stand, which is what makes Disney Imagineering Project Kiwi a monumental development.
Started way back in 2018, the project’s goal was to create a fully mobile, bipedal robot in the exact likeness and size of a certain character. Considering its smaller stature and fame, it’s no surprise that the team chose to skin it in “Kid” Groot’s appearance, something in between the adorable Baby Groot and the towering adult version. And after three years of designing and developing custom parts, Project Kiwi was ready for a public preview.
TechCrunch reveals a bipedal robot that walks almost naturally, at least as natural as it is for Groot to walk. Unlike even the most advanced animatronics, only a thin cable for programming connects to the robot, giving it almost total freedom to move around. Its movements and even its expressions are pretty impressive and, thanks to not looking human, avoids uncanny valley completely.
More than just recreating Groot, though, Project Kiwi is a platform meant to be used to develop other characters using the same design and technology. At the moment, however, it is still an early work in progress, even at this stage, so don’t expect to see its kind walking down Disney parks any time soon.