Oh my goodness gracious — it wasn’t a dream!!!
Earlier this year, we got to participate in a private media event from Disney where we saw a brief (and we mean VERY BRIEF) clip of Imagineers looking at what appeared to be a WALKING robot Baby Groot! We seriously did a double take.
Because it was a private event, we were prompted not to take photos. And without photos or videos of this unique creation, it kind-of made it all feel like maybe the whole thing was just part of a crazy Guardians of the Galaxy dream. BUT NO! It is real and now we’ve got photos and a video to prove it!!
Now, it’s important to note that guests have been able to meet Groot in the past in Disney’s Hollywood Studios but he was quite small!
Guests could also get a glimpse of a MASSIVE Groot in Disney California Adventure Park.
But, this NEW Groot creation is totally different!!! Earlier, we shared a look at some similar tech from a patent Disney filed at the end of 2020 for a “Legged High-dexterity Self-balancing Capable Robot Actor.”
But now we finally have some answers about the incredible Baby Groot robot we only got a tiny clip of before. Here’s robot Baby Groot in all of his glory!!
According to TechCrunch, this robot is not attached in one place like the animatronics we’re used to seeing in the parks. Instead, this character is only attached by a thin cable used for programming. Other than some minor cables, he can walk around freely!
His gait is smooth, and his arms can swing in a more life-like manner. TechCrunch shares that this is what is known as “Project Kiwi” — “a small-scale, free-roaming robotic actor — the first of its kind for Disney and a real robotics milestone.”
This little guy has expressive eyes, accurately rendered textures on his face, hands, and feet, and an outfit you’ll recognize from the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Basically — it’s a real, walk around robot character that is kid-size!
TechCrunch specifically noted that while the version of Project Kiwi that we’re seeing now is “Groot-flavored,” “it’s important to stress that this is a platform first and foremost, which means that it could take this form when it gets to the parks, or another form entirely.” That is interesting since the patent we saw previously for some similar technology did have one image that looked like Judy Hopps. So, we’re wondering where Disney could take this in the future!
TechCrunch notes that Project Kiwi is still a work in progress, and that guests shouldn’t expect to “see this in the wild soon.” They specifically noted that there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in the way that Kiwi works and interactions with people. They also noted that Walt Disney Imagineering “does not have immediate plans to put it in the parks.”
But, even so, this is still an absolutely INCREDIBLE sight! Check out a full video about the robot Groot below!!
So, Imagineering turned to their Research & Development group to work on some ways to make this happen. All of this started about 3 years ago!!
Prototypes were built, and things have just continued to move on from there. Though there is still some audible noise from some of the pieces in the prototype (and some air being pushed through the unit through fans), the noise is very low, “allowing audio playing out of a speaker to enable conversation.”
While the robot that TechCrunch got the chance to see in the demonstration had a safety tether and a control cable for live programming, nothing on the rig itself actually needed support. It was free roaming with on-board battery power. Right now, it seems that battery power lasts about 45 minutes.
What’s incredible is the current prototype already has a series of set behaviors and things that can show Groot’s mood, particularly through his walk. He can swing his arms to look happy, and then move onto having his head hung to show some sadness.
The robot is incredibly impressive already, but what’s next on the plate? Well, up next for Project Kiwi is some new tech that will add some more sensing capabilities for increased stability or reaction to uneven ground and interactions. Basically, this could help our little buddy sense when a kid might come in for a hug, react smoothly to those external inputs, and help the robot stay upright and looking “natural.”
And the team is looking to add a sensory package that will allow the Project Kiwi robot to “more fully understand the world around it and to identify people and their faces.”
The TechCrunch article also notes that while the Project Kiwi platform still has a lot of work left to do before it appears in the parks, “it’s already well on the road to being viable for things like stage performances, photo ops and eventually free roaming deployment in the parks.” And that appears to be the goal.
One Disney executive has said that the goal is to move Disney’s beloved characters into the spaces where guests are at a proper scale to make them really genuine.
You can read the full TechCrunch article for more details on ALL of the technology that has gone into this amazing creation! Again, the article notes that we shouldn’t expect to see this “in the wild” anytime soon and that things could look very different when it does get shared with guests.
But, it’s absolutely fascinating to see this little piece of it and just how realistic it looks when it moves around. And when you sit down and think about ALL of the possibilities this could open up for Disney in terms of unique character interactions in the parks, it’s just incredible! We’ll continue to keep an eye out for more updates on this and we’ll let you know what we find!
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What do you think of this Baby Groot robot? Tell us in the comments!