Disney’s autonomous Baby Groot robot is beyond adorable

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Today we bring you the free-walking, robotic marvel that is Disney’s Project Kiwi, in the form of a life-sized, walking, waving, dancing Baby Groot. And it’s not going to stop at Groot either, it sounds like there are plans to apply a host of Disney characters to the Kiwi project’s frame.

This little cutie is the flagship character brought to life for the preview stage of Project Kiwi’s  autonomous bipedal base bot. In-house Imagineers have been working on it for three years now, but the preview video surfaced this past weekend and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen since we watched the Boston Dynamics robots dancing to ’60s rock and roll.

Beneath the amusing façade, and that hugely uncanny smile, lies an excruciatingly complex frame with some exciting cooling solutions. 

So complex are the parts, in fact, that milling or casting just wouldn’t cut it. Industrial printers had to be employed to create the intricate armatures housing the bot’s critical components. And the frame is actually hollow, featuring what Imagineers are calling a “marrow conduit” for optimal, skeletal airflow. 

Cool air, propelled by embedded fans, rushes through the system’s frame from the collar downwards, cooling the motors and actuators, and blowing out of the character’s trouser leg. Bit odd, but it works, and it’s a true milestone for Disney robotics.

You have to commend the Imagineers for their technological feats. It may not be in it’s final stages just yet, but a free-walking, self-balancing robot is a big step for any company at this point. Currently there are some sophisticated, even reactive, personality-driven animatronics dotted around Disney parks, but these are all otherwise static. They couldn’t walk around and interact with park-goers, not like this one will.

R&D Imagineer Principal Scott LaValley spoke to TechCrunch about the project: 

“It’s an exciting time for bipedal robotics and with an incredible team and our combination of technology, artistry and magic, we are bringing characters to life that could not have happened anywhere but Disney.”

Soon, going to a Disney theme park will be a much more rich and immersive experience with autonomous bots wandering around, or perhaps somewhat creepier for those who look at Baby Groot and see only the uncanny valley. 

If there’s going to be a robot uprising at least it’ll be adorable characters holding theme park guests hostage, as opposed to weaponised mechs with soulless chrome faces. Or both.

Katie is a confessed logophile with a love of metaphor and an insatiable creative urge. She’s also an RPG, sim and survival game enthusiast who harbours an overt disdain for MMOs, un-managed cables and software that doesn’t include a dark mode.

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