Disney’s Humanoid Stunt Robots Throw Multiple Backflips No Sweat

What’s the biggest problem right now with humanoid robots? They fall down. Disney seems to have solved that problem here by making robots that are meant to fall down and be caught by a net. Disney’s research arm (you may know them as Imagineers) is showing off a robot called Stuntronic which can perform controlled somersaults as it flies through the air. Check the video below, you really have to watch a few times to make sure this is a robot and not a person.

It’s really interesting to follow the evolution of this robot. It began with BRICK, a limbless rectangular bot that could shift its center of gravity to control orientation while moving through the air. From there, Stickman adapted those concepts into a stick-shaped robot that had two hinged portions which allowed for controlled somersaults as it flew through the air. Stuntronic feels like a big leap from that design.

As with Stickman, it can bend to control somersaults mid-air, but with the addition of articulated arms, Stuntronic can also add twists to the acrobatic bag of tricks. To our eye, this is very lifelike and manages to completely escape the uncanny valley. This is a ringing endorsement since one of the proposed purposes of this research is for live performances at Disney’s theme parks.

The Hall of Presidents was a marvel of its time, as robots presented famous speeches while decorated in the likeness of the leaders who originally delivered them. But to stand and deliver is a trick of decades past. We hope this is a trick of next year and not something we’ll have to wake decades into the future to see in person.

Oh, and for those wondering if Stuntronic stuck the landing? The controlled delivery into the net’s warm embrace is equally impressive. Hopefully, successful landings are commonplace because they’re launching these bots with some really wicked force! In addition to the gyroscopes and accelerometers you’d expect to find in a motion-aware machine, the design uses a trio of laser rangefinders that triangulate ground position to spot the optimal landing. We haven’t seen a publication for this bot yet but check the Stickman info for more on these sensors.

19 thoughts on “Disney’s Humanoid Stunt Robots Throw Multiple Backflips No Sweat

  1. The video seems to take great care to NOT show the landing phase very clearly.

    Which is the most important thing in falling “correctly”. The “flying” can be done by a stick (which is demonstrated at the beginning of the video).

  2. Very cool but a part of me wonders whether AI and these articulated robots is a good idea.

    Just think about it…we humans can cope with “It’s a small world” because it’s a 3 minute ride but those poor animatronics are going to suffer for hours and hours. That’s enough to drive anything mad :-)

    The robot revolution is not going to be a DARPA project, it’s probably going to start with animatronics requesting a pay rise and improved working conditions.

  3. The whole point of acrobats is not that they can do that stuff but that they are prepared to risk death to do it for the audience’s entertainment. There is no point having a robot do it. Except perhaps that Disney are in denial of the perverse and morbid attraction that the circus really has for many people. Come on be honest you didn’t go to see the bearded lady out of an interest in endocrinology, or even facial hair grooming techniques. The same goes for a lot of activities where people risk their lives for no sensible reason, certain youtube people being a good example, aside from the usual extreme sports. So why don’t we get the robots to do something really dangerous, like spaghetti western style duels?


    1. It’s only about 10 years ago that ASIMO walking in a straight line was wowing people on TV shows all round the world. Then it started to “run” (that is, jog) and we all lost our minds. Then there’s those death-machines that run on 4 legs or blow up an entire wedding full of brown people without needing human input, great!

      Acrobatics is boring. Sure maybe trapeze is death-defying but most acrobats are just risking a sprained back. But ROBOT acrobatics is amazing because it’s the latest thing. It’s taken years of research and is something you’ll see nowhere else in the world outside of Disney. It’s impressive cos it’s novel, like the bearded lady, not because anybody might die.

      Robots staging gunfights would be deadly dull. Kung fu, though…

  4. Hehehe, the guy in the animating gif at the top of this page looks as if he’s getting primed to catch the robot if it might miss the landing.

    That’s probably the biggest difference between a human and a robot: catching the human will never hurt as much as catching the robot. :)

    I think it’s quite inadvisable to catch that robot if it might misses the landing. :D

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