Walt Disney Imagineering pioneered the use of robotic characters in Disney Theme Parks using what was dubbed audio-animatronics. These creations give life to characters in the park without the need for actors to become parts of attractions and repeat the same actions time after time. The technology has continued to evolve, and the next generation looks amazing. While animatronics have thus far been forced to remain stationary, only moving their upper bodies, this new generation, called Stuntronics, have the ability to move, and even fly through the air.
The project was born out of a desire to make the animatronic versions of these popular characters be able to do the things in the parks that they do on the screen. With major action franchises like Marvel and Star Wars becoming bigger parts of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the need for the characters inside these attractions to be able to do what we see in the movies was all the more important.
The result is essentially a robotic stunt double. In an attraction where you need Iron Man to communicate with the audience and then fly through the air, one animatronic can handle the first part in the way most of them work today, then the attraction can transition to the stuntronic for the more physical activity. Get an idea what we're talking about in the video below.
According to Tech Crunch, the stuntronics have on-board accelerometers and gyroscope arrays supported by laser range finding, which should allow them to hit their targets every time.
Audio-animatronics have come a long way over the decades. A quick look at something like the Captain Jack Sparrow animatronic you can find inside Pirates of the Caribbean, when seen alongside the older models, shows how much more realistic they have become. Adding the ability to be more active is the obvious next step. Having a fully mobile bipedal audio-animatronic is called the "holy grail" and while Walt Disney Imagineering isn't there yet, this is clearly a step in that direction.
We know that Disney Parks is already working on a major Marvel expansion that will be built at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. Considering that we see some of the stuntronics floating through the air, as well as swinging on ropes, the idea of seeing these creations take on the role of Iron Man or Spider-Man seems obvious.
We're likely still years away from actually seeing these things in the park, but when we do, it's going to be impressive.
Image Courtesy WDWNews.com/Disney