How Many Robots Can You See In This Photo? Disney Sees Two

Disney’s latest addition to their robotic character lineup is Duke Weaselton, who debuted at the Shanghai Resort in December. Modeled after a character from the popular movie Zootopia, Duke is part of an innovative approach by Disney to redefine what constitutes a robot. While observers may only see one robot in a given scene, Disney insists there are always two, challenging traditional notions of robotic presence.

Unlike previous humanoid robots designed to seamlessly blend with human crowds, Duke Weaselton is distinct in his appearance and purpose. He interacts with audiences, primarily speaking Mandarin to charm crowds and negotiate partnerships. Alongside him is another robot disguised as a kiosk, a clever tactic to conceal its robotic identity.

Disney’s strategy involves pairing robots to work collaboratively, a departure from the solitary roles typically assigned to them. By teaming Duke with the kiosk robot, they capitalize on each other’s strengths to deliver exceptional performances, particularly in entertaining audiences. This innovative approach enables actions and interactions that a single robot could not achieve alone.

Morgan Pope, a research scientist at Disney’s Research Center, explains the rationale behind this approach. While Duke, as a standalone robot, lacks certain capabilities such as standing independently, the kiosk robot provides the necessary support and mobility. This collaborative effort allows Duke to perform complex actions, including engaging in conversations with human counterparts on stage.

Through careful engineering, Disney creates illusions that enhance the believability of Duke’s performance. Electromagnets stabilize Duke’s legs, giving the impression of strength and stability. Meanwhile, the kiosk robot assists in lifting Duke to eye level for interactions, further blurring the line between reality and fiction.

The synergy between these two robots enables Disney to execute elaborate and seamless performances, reminiscent of their storytelling prowess in movies. This approach not only enhances the entertainment value but also serves as a lesson for other robotics companies. Rather than expecting a single robot to fulfill all tasks, collaboration can unlock new possibilities and elevate the overall experience, akin to the magic of a Disney movie.

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