A few weeks back Disney Parks held a virtual press event to announce the opening date for Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure. The news that the new theme park land would be open in early June was awesome, but what got people talking after the event was when Josh D'Amaro, Disney parks Chairman, picked up what appeared to be a fully functional, "real" lightsaber. It was an incredibly cool moment that got lots of press people buzzing (especially because we weren't allowed to record the presentation, so nobody else could see what we saw). However, what blew me away was something else we were given a sneak peek of, an animatronic figure of Groot, that was able to walk, completely free of external support.
All we were given was a few seconds of video with no context, but what we were seeing was clearly a leap forward in innovation when it comes to Disney's audio-animatronics. TechCrunch was recently given an up close look at the new technology, so now we know a lot more about just what it is, and just how impressive this could be. Check out Groot, walking, and even dancing, with no help.
Audio-animatronics have come a long way since the birds of the Enchanted Tiki Room and an Abraham Lincoln figure who could (gasp) stand up from a sitting position. Figures like the Na'vi Shaman At Disney's Animal Kingdom Na'vi River Journey are incredibly massive and equally complex, but even the newest animatronics are limited to standing in one place.
This Groot animatronic from Walt Disney Imagineering is able to more or less roam free, with the only connection to anything being a small cable used for programming the little guy to do whatever he needs to be told to do. We see him walking free in the video above, and even standing on one foot, which is just incredible considering that if the balance on Groot was off even a little a move like that would cause a very expensive piece of electronics to fall on its face.
Project Kiwi, which is the name of the program that created this technology, which is designed to be scalable to other animatronics, not just Groot, has apparently been going for about three years already, and is far from complete. It doesn't sound like we're all that close to seeing this tech actually in the parks. So even though there's a brand new Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster currently under construction, don't expect this little guy to be outside to welcome you when you arrive.
Still, between this, and the Spider-Man "stunt" animatronics that we'll be keeping an eye open for when Avengers Campus does open, it shows just how far this otherwise simple idea from Walt has come. Theme parks have always been a place where the stories from the movies came to life, but there were always limitations. Once characters like Groot can join us at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, many of those limitations will be gone.