Disney Debuts Stickman Robot With Impressive Acrobatic Skills

Imagine if at the end of a Cirque du Soleil performance the participants took their bows, then ripped off their faces to reveal a robotic skeleton. That would be incredible, right? As farfetched as that scenario sounds, don't be surprised if someday in the future, acrobatic stunts are performed by robots. We've seen some remarkable things in the field of robotics, the latest of which is an acrobatic robot being developed at Disney Research.

Disney Research Stickman
Image Source: Disney Research

Called Stickman, the slender robot is able to pull off some impressive acrobatic feats through a series of sensors and on-the-fly calculations. There's a two-minute long demonstration on YouTube that shows off Stickman's ability to swing from the ceiling and perform a flip in the air before safely landing on a mat. The video also shows Stickman doing a double flip, and no flip at all, in both cases landing softly on its back.

"Human performers have developed impressive acrobatic techniques over thousands of years of practicing the gymnastic arts. At the same time, robots have started to become more mobile and autonomous and can begin to imitate these stunts in dramatic and informative ways. We present a simple two degree of freedom robot that uses a gravity-driven pendulum launch and produces a variety of somersaulting stunts," Disney Research says.

To be able to pull off those stunts, Stickman uses an IMU and a laser range-finder to estimate its state while in mid-flight. Following a series of fast calculations on its onboard processor, Stickman can then actuate to change its motion both on and off the pendulum. It's basically doing what a human acrobat does in his or her head.

Stickman is a "human-length" robot broken up into three links that can can fold or unfold to tuck or untuck during a somersault. It has compressed air tanks and pistons, and a 12V lithium-polymer battery pack to power the solenoid valves controlling the actuators.

"The basic construction of the prototype was influenced by a desire for each reconfigurability, fast repair, and high peak actuator strength and power," Disney Research explains in a white paper.

Looking down the line, Disney Research plans to "pursue more advanced sensing and control strategies" that will eventually allow its Stickman robot to perform "more interesting stunts." What those entail remain to be seen, though for now, it's pretty neat seeing a hunk of metal perform double-flip somersaults.

Thumbnail Image Source: Disney Research