This Robot Is a Better Dad Than Your Dad

Disney is building a robot that can play catch

Image: Disney Research

Disney has long had a “dad problem.” Very few of its movies feature strong father figures, and the strong ones are often evil or power hungry. Now, Disney is remedying that by building a robot that can play catch.

Okay, actually the company is developing this robot for use in Disney theme parks, to interact with visitors. The current version can juggle, nod, shrug, shake its head and play catch.

Here’s how the Disney Research Hub describes the advances in their robot:

Robots in entertainment environments typically do not allow for physical interaction and contact with people. However, catching and throwing back objects is one form of physical engagement that still maintains a safe distance between the robot and participants. Using an animatronic humanoid robot, we developed a test bed for a throwing and catching game scenario. We use an external camera system (ASUS Xtion PRO LIVE) to locate balls and a Kalman filter to predict ball destination and timing. The robot’s hand and joint-space are calibrated to the vision coordinate system using a least-squares technique, such that the hand can be positioned to the predicted location. Successful catches are thrown back two and a half meters forward to the participant, and missed catches are detected to trigger suitable animations that indicate failure. Human to robot partner juggling (three ball cascade pattern, one hand for each partner) is also achieved by speeding up the catching/throwing cycle. We tested the throwing/catching system on six participants (one child and five adults, including one elderly), and the juggling system on three skilled jugglers.

Not quite dad material just yet, but don’t worry, Disney is working on it.

More from

Robots Inspired by Biology
My Robot Helper of Tomorrow
Robots Get the Human Touch

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.