The typical approach to adding actuated joints and additional degrees of freedom to a robot is slapping additional servos and motors on there. And that's fine, except that it adds weight and cost and complexity. A little bit of cleverness with gears can go a very long way, and Disney Research has developed a new rapid design tool that can create sophisticated mechatronics that operate with just one motor.
Disney designed ten animated characters with this system, and manufactured seven of them, and in each case, getting the character to do what they wanted it to do took less than half an hour. All of the parts involved can be 3D printed, too, which makes us think that it might be a lot of fun for Disney to release this too into the wild and let people make their own characters with it. But before they do, there some additional capabilities in the works:
"Our characters are currently restricted to cyclic motions," said Stelian Coros, an associate research scientist at Disney Research, Zürich. "However, our research brings us one step closer to the rapid design and manufacture of customized robots that can sense and interact with their environments to carry out complex tasks."
[ Disney Research ]