HBO's hit series Westworld showed the dangers of using robots in theme parks, but a futuristic park like this, where adults live out their own fantasies by using these robots, would be quite controversial if it were to be built in real life. A new report reveals that Disney may be starting the process to implement real soft-body robots that would interact with guests at its theme parks, but they won't have any Westworld-type applications. These bots are believed to be playing Disney characters, but it isn't known what characters will be implemented at this time.
Orlando Sentinel broke the news that Disney has filed for a patent, where the company reveals they are, "designing a robot that will move and physically interact like an animated character." The prototype sketch that was included with the patent application reportedly showed a round body that was reminiscent of the Big Hero 6 character Baymax. The patent application also reveals that Disney's scientists in Pittsburgh have worked on prototypes dubbed "soft body 300" and "soft body 1000." Here's what theme park writer Jim Hill had to say about the news, adding what the biggest issue about these robots is.
"It's hard to know why Disney decides to file for a patent, but they have been looking at soft-body robots since Big Hero. Disney is still terrified that even with this soft technology, a robot could accidentally harm a child. They do a lot of testing."
Pittsburgh is also the home to Carnegie Melon University, which developed a soft robot arm that eventually inspired Big Hero 6 creator Don Hall to create the Baymax character. Don Hall actually brought his research to Disney's Imagineers when he was working on Big Hero 6, which is what lead to the company's interest in this technology. The inventors of this soft body robot are Alexander Alspach, Joohyung Kim and Katsu Yamane from Disney Research Pittsburgh, who have been working on this soft body prototype since 2014, the same year Big Hero 6 was released in theaters.
The patent application reveals that the robot's body would be made up of pliable chambers that would be filled up with either air or some type of fluid, with the robot being able to sense pressure in each chamber, in response to a child's hug, or even an accidental collision with a guest. The outer shapes on the robot would include, "a donut shape, a cylinder, and a cylinder with a round end." Still, there is a lot to be worked out before these robots become a reality. Here's another excerpt from the patent application citing safety concerns.
"It has proven difficult to provide wholly safe interactions between humans and robots simply by operating these humanoid and other robots with controlled movements."
The use of these robots could cut down on labor costs, minimizing the amount of humans that are hired to play Disney characters at each theme park. Disney has clashed with unions for actors who portray Disney characters at their theme parks, with a 2015 dispute arising from a union representative involving a stipulation that employees cannot talk publicly about the characters they portray, and there have been lawsuits that have emerged involving people playing Disney characters. A 2011 lawsuit filed by a Philadelphia woman claimed that an actor playing Donald Duck groped her, and that the theme park tried to cover up this and other similar incidents. In 2007, an employee playing Tigger was suspended when he punched a 14-year-old during a home video session.