Decades ago Disney's audio-animatronic technology revolutionized the animated characters that helped bring the company's theme park rides to life. But just imagine how eerily lifelike those Caribbean pirates or US presidents will be when the company's latest breakthrough—motor-less, servo-less, but remarkably responsive air-powered robots—are implemented in Disney's parks.
The impressive speed, articulation, and accuracy displayed by this robotic arm was achieved by removing the heavy motors, servos, wires, and other electronics you'll usually find weighing down a robotic arm. Instead, its joints are powered by pneumatic tubes and air pressure which is what gives the robot arm its impressively fluid motions.
However, there is a catch. The robot arm's movements are actually duplicated from a second robot arm that is operated and manipulated by a puppeteer. The joints on the two arms are inter-connected by the aforementioned pneumatic tubes, and the movements are translated as air moves between them. The technology was realized by the development of a new kind of pneumatic transmission that can be mounted in the body of a character, not in the arms, allowing them to move more freely.
As a result, in its current form the air-powered robots still need to be tethered to another rig and animated with the help of a puppeteer. And that's not exactly ideal for rides like Pirates of the Caribbean where the animatronic characters perform hundreds of times a day. But it can help animatronic characters used in movies and TV shows appear to be far more lifelike and fluid, and it certainly has the potential to revolutionize the Muppets as we know them. [Disney Research]