Are Huggable, Interactive Robots Coming To Disney Theme Parks?

According to a patent filed by the Disney Enterprises group, the company’s theme park visitors might soon come face to face with huggable and interactive robots.

The Disney Enterprises group filed a US patent in February for “soft body robot for physical interaction with humans.” According to ARS Technica, the patent describes mostly rigid robots, with the exception of “fluid-filled voids,” “flexible membranes,” and “pressure sensors,” which would work together to guide the robots’ joint motion. The hope is that it would result in “a soft, modular robot that is huggable and interactive.”

While some might question how safe these robots will be, especially around young kids, Disney’s inventors reported in the filing that they have already tested prototypes of this hugging robot with children, and found “the robot was robust to playful, physical interaction.”  They also noted that the larger human-like robot systems will have “soft, sensorized skins to ensure human safety.”

Other robots mentioned in the filing include “a furry seal robot” that responds to petting and holding. All interaction, beyond what’s triggered by pressure sensors, is controlled by a “controller,” but there is no clarification as to whether this is an electronic controller or something that needs to be supervised by an Imagineer.

There is also no word on what Disney plans to do with these robots once they are developed. Will they take the place of costumed employees? Amusement parks are mentioned in the patent filing, but only in a brief mention as to the many places where companies already use robots. But the patent does confirm that a Disney robot “may be based on an animated character.”


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