Kim helps Disney create frighteningly realistic robot

11/24/2020 Joseph Park, Illinois ECE

Illinois ECE Associate Professor Joohyung Kim helped Disney develop a skinless robot with eyes that can mimic realistic human expressions.

Written by Joseph Park, Illinois ECE

Disney's skinless robot (photo credit: Yahoo!Life)
Disney's skinless robot (photo credit: Yahoo!Life)
Joohyung Kim
Joohyung Kim

Disney is renown for their use of audio-animatronics on classic attractions like the Pirates of the Caribbean and It's a Small World and continues to innovate their technology thanks to the help of Illinois ECE Associate Professor Joohyung Kim. Along with engineers from Walt Disney Imagineering (Disney's research division) and robotics researchers from the California Institute of Technology, Kim created a skinless robot with human-like eyes that can make Disney attractions even more engaging and perhaps a bit more terrifying.

Although skinless, this new robot possesses eerily realistic eyes to mimic realistic human interactions. 

Their work focused on developing a system for a lifelike gaze in human-robot interactions by means of a humanoid animatronic bust. Previously, research related to the mutual gaze between robots and humans were focused on technical implementation. However, Kim's work presents a general architecture that not demonstrates technical advancements, but also incorporates character animation to enhance the believability of motion and ultimately, demonstrating the illusion of life.

According to Disney Research, the robot "perceives people in the environment, identifies persons-of-interest based on salient actions, selects an appropriate gaze behavior, and executes high, fidelity motions to respond to the stimuli." The researchers used mechanisms that imitated motor and attention behaviors analogous to behaviors observed in biological systems including "attention habitation, saccades, and differences in motion bandwidth for actuators."

A subsumption architecture allowed for layering of simple motor movements to portray increasingly complex behavior that can realistically react to its environment. Kim is also affiliated with the CSL.


Read more about their robot from Yahoo and Disney Research

Share this story

This story was published November 24, 2020.