We don’t have to tell you that the representation hackers and makers get in popular media is usually pretty poor. At this point, we’ve all come to accept that Hollywood is only interested in perpetuating negative stereotypes about hackers. But in scenes where the plot calls for a character to be working on an electronic device, it often seems like the prop department just sticks a soldering iron in the actor’s hand and calls it a day.
Of course, there are some exceptions. In the final episode of Marvel’s Hawkeye, the titular character is shown building some custom gear in a work area that looks suspiciously like somewhere actual work might get done. The set design was impressive enough that [Giovanni Bernardo] decided to pause the show and try to identify some of the tools and gadgets that litter the character’s refreshingly chaotic bench.
Now to be clear, we haven’t personally seen the latest Marvel spectacle from the House of Mouse, and it’s entirely possible that the illusion falls apart when taken as a whole. But from what we’re seeing here, it certainly looks like whoever did the set dressing for Hawkeye seems to have made an effort to recreate the hackerspace chic. We’ve got a multimeter within arm’s reach, the classic magnifying glass third arm, a Wiha screwdriver about to roll out of frame, and even some JB-Weld. If this looks eerily like what’s currently on your own bench, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
On the wider shot, we can see that the attention to detail wasn’t limited to the close-up. From the tools hanging on the pegboard to the shelves filled with rows of neatly labeled bins, we totally buy this as a functional workspace. It’s quite a bit neater than where we currently do our tinkering, but that’s more of a personal problem than anything. As we’ve seen, there are certainly people in this community who take their organization seriously.
Portrayals of science or technology in the media often leave a lot to be desired, which is why it’s so important to praise productions that put in the effort to get things right. With a little luck, maybe it will get through to the right people and raise the bar a bit. But even if it doesn’t change anything, we can at least give the folks behind the scenes some well-deserved recognition.
Some days, we might be forgiven for believing Boston Dynamics has cornered the market on walking robots. They (and other players) are making incredible progress in their field, but three years ago Disney, trying to create autonomous, free-walking robotic actors for some of their more diminutive film characters, found none of the existing platforms were appropriate. So they set their Imagineering department to work on “Project Kiwi”, and we are now seeing the fruits of those efforts.
Research on bipedal robots has amassed over the years, and as the saying goes, if these Imagineers saw further it was by standing on the shoulders of larger robotic platforms. However, the Project Kiwi designers have made a laundry list of innovations in their process of miniaturization, from the “marrow conduit” cooling system which forces air through hollow bones, to gearing that allows actuators to share motors even across joints. The electronics are distributed around the skeleton on individual PCBs with ribbon flex cables to reduce wiring, and almost every component is custom fabricated to meet the complex size and weight requirements.
Even in this early prototype, Disney’s roots in life-like animatronics are evident. Groot’s movements are emotive, if a bit careful, and software can express a variety of personalities through his gaits and postures. The eyes and face are as expressive as we’ve come to expect (though a keen eye for seams puts off some definite Westworld vibes). Reportedly, this version can handle gentle shoves and contact, but we do spot a safety cable still attached to the head. So there’s probably some way to go before we’ll see this interacting with the general public in a park.
Disney’s Imagineering department has been doing some amazing work with robotics and they continue to make significant innovations in the more traditional fields of animatronics. It certainly looks like one of the coolest places to work right now, and now we’re itching to build our own bipedal friends to play with.
Continue reading “Disney Imagineering’s “Project Kiwi” Bears Groot”
Virtual reality is usually an isolated individual experience very different from the shared group experience of a movie screen or even a living room TV. But those worlds of entertainment are more closely intertwined than most audiences are aware. Video game engines have been taking a growing role in film and television production behind the scenes, and now they’re stepping out in front of the camera in a big way for making The Mandalorian TV series.
Big in this case is a three-quarters cylindrical LED array 75 ft (23 m) in diameter and 20 ft (6 m) high. But the LEDs covering its walls and ceiling aren’t pointing outwards like some installation for Times Square. This setup, called the Volume, points inward to display background images for camera and crew working within. It’s an immersive LED backdrop and stage environment.
Incorporating projected imagery on stage is a technique going at least as far back as 1933’s King Kong, but it is very limited. Lighting and camera motion has to be very constrained in order to avoid breaking the fragile illusion. More recently, productions have favored green screens replaced with computer imagery in post production. It removed most camera motion and lighting constraints, but costs a lot of money and time. It is also more difficult for actors to perform their roles convincingly against big blank slabs of green. The Volume solves all of those problems by putting computer-generated imagery on set, rendered in real time via video game engine Unreal.
Continue reading “VR Technology Helps Bring A Galaxy Far, Far Away To Our TV”
The House of Mouse has been at the forefront of entertainment technology from its very beginnings in an old orange grove in Anaheim. Disney Imagineers invented the first modern animatronics in the 1960s and they’ve been improving the technology ever since, often to the point of being creepy.
But the complicated guts of an animatronic are sometimes too much for smaller characters, so in the spirit of “cheaper, faster, better”, Disney has developed some interesting techniques for animated characters made from wire. Anyone who has ever played with a [Gumby] or other posable wireframe toys knows that eventually, the wire will break, and even before then will plastically deform so it can’t return to its native state.
Wires used as the skeletons of animated figures can avoid that fate if they are preloaded with special shapes, or “templates,” that redirect the forces of bending. The Disney team came up with a computational model to predict which template shapes could be added to each wire to make it bend to fit the animation needs without deforming. A commercially available CNC wire bender installs the templates that lie in the plane of the wire, while coiled templates are added later with a spring-bending jig.
The results are impressive — the wire skeleton of an animated finger can bend completely back on itself with no deformation, and the legs of an animated ladybug can trace complicated paths and propel the beast with only servos pulling cables on the jointless legs. The video below shows the method and the animated figures; we can imagine that figures animated using this technique will start popping up at Disney properties eventually.
From keeping guests safe from robotic harm to free-flying robotic aerialists, it seems like the Disney Imagineers have a hardware hacker’s paradise at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Continue reading “Kinetic Wire Animatronics Bend It Like Disney”
Ever seen a bit of graffiti in a strange location and wondered how the graffiti artist got up there? It might have been a drone rather than an athletic teen. Disney research has just published an interesting research paper that describes the PaintCopter: an autonomous drone fitted with a can of spray paint on a pan-tilt arm. It’s more than just sticking a paint can on a stick, though: they built a system that can scan a 3D surface then calculate how to paint a design on it, and then do it autonomously. The idea is that they want to use this to paint difficult-to-reach bits of theme parks, or to add seasonal decorations without sending someone up a ladder.
Continue reading “Disney Builds Autonomous Graffiti Drone”
Being a maker opens up so many doors in terms of ways to romance one’s partner through passion projects. If their passion is Disney films, then you may handily make them the enchanted rose from Beauty and the Beast for their birthday. Easy-peasy.
In addition to the love and care that went into this build, redditor [Vonblackhawk2811] has included a set of LEDs, salvaged from cheap flashlights and electronic candles, which are controlled by four toggle switches and offer multiple lighting selections — candlelight, soft white, colour cycling, and bright white — to appropriately set the mood. As if that wasn’t enough to romance his sweetheart, he’s also included an aux cord input and a pair of speakers so they may be serenaded by a tune or two as they dance the night away.
Liberal use of hot glue and duct tape are keeping the electronics secured, preventing any shorts. After all — what would it say if this gift went up in flames? An inspired stencil design — hand drawn and cut out — was used to apply a spray-on frosted glass finish to the cloche, and a romantic phrase was burned into the base, completing this heartfelt gift. The only quibble we have is that now we all have to step up our game in the courtship department.
That is, unless one is sporting the Romance Pants.
If it’s been a few years since you’ve been to Disney World, you’re in for a surprise on your next visit. It seems the Happiest Place on Earth has become the Trackiest Place on Earth thanks to the Disney MagicBand, a multipurpose wristband that acts as your pass to all the Disney magic.
[Adam] recently returned from a Disney vacation and brought back his MagicBand, which quickly went under the knife for a peek at the magic inside. It turns out the technology is fairly mundane — a couple of flex PCBs with trace antennas and the usual trappings of an RFID transponder. But there’s also another antenna and a chip identified in a separate teardown as an NRF24LE1 2.4 GHz transceiver and microcontroller. The whole thing is powered by a coin cell, meaning the band isn’t just being interrogated by RFID – it’s actively transmitting and receiving.
What exactly it’s doing isn’t clear; Disney was characteristically cagey about specifics when [Adam] looked into the details, saying only that the bands “provide information that helps us improve the overall experience in our parks”. If you put aside the privacy concerns, it’s truly mind-boggling to think about the systems that must be in place to track thousands of these MagicBands around the enormous Disney property. And we can’t help but wonder if some of Disney R&D’s EM-Sense technology is at work in these wearables.
Thanks to [JohnU] for the tip.