Disney and animatronics have long gone together like bread and butter. Even some of the oldest iterations of Disney theme parks had plenty of stationary animatronics within the attractions waving and smiling, with the most prominent example being the classic “It’s a Small World” ride. But what if those animatronics could actually get up from their mounts and start walking around the park on their own? No, it’s not a cheap ploy for a horror B-movie, it’s technological wonderment.
Disney’s Imagineers have been developing a new kind of animatronic currently codenamed “Project Kiwi.” The goal of Project Kiwi is to create an animatronic that can roam freely around a theme park, entertaining and interacting with guests as it goes. Recently, the Imagineers gave a demonstration of their Project Kiwi animatronic, presented in the lovable guise of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.
“Project KIWI started about three years ago to figure out how we can bring our smaller characters to life at their actual scale in authentic ways,” R&D Imagineer Scott LaValley said. “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.”
A couple of weeks ago I got to see Disney Imagineering’s latest feat — a walking, talking bipedal robotics platform called Project Kiwi. It’s a milestone in this kind of robotics. Read about how the team created it here: https://t.co/x97mJL6TdU pic.twitter.com/3pH0N9JIFI
— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) April 23, 2021
The Groot animatronic has fully articulated arms and legs, as well as some facial features like its eyes and mouth. While it was tethered for safety purposes during the demonstration, the device doesn’t actually need to be supported; it can walk around entirely on its own thanks to an internal 45-minute battery.
The tech is still very much in its infancy, but according to the Imagineers, once they’ve perfected it, they could make walking animatronics in the image of just about any character. If they got the green light to bring the animatronics to Disney parks, they’d probably start with limited stage shows before allowing them to roam freely on park grounds to interact with guests. I know I’d love to hug a little Groot robot.