I didn't know that Disney had a research arm, but they do, and the work that they're presenting at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) here in Shanghai might give a little peek into one of their future theme park attractions.
What Disney researchers, working with colleagues at ETH Zurich, want to do is develop algorithms that instruct swarms of robots on how to move into into different patterns using smooth and visually appealing transitions. It's kind of like a marching band, except with lots of little robots that light up in pretty colors:
While the algorithms haven't been specifically designed to make the transitions nice looking, a variety of different strategies were tested, and the prettiest one was chosen. Next, the researchers are going to try to toss some obstacles into the mix, and see how well the robots do with moving patterns, as opposed to static shapes.
This isn't the only interesting paper that Disney Research is presenting at ICRA. They're also working on developing a control system for a robot that can walk around on a ball:
As to whether or how any of this is going to make it into a Disney theme park near you, well, you'll just have to keep your fingers crossed and use your imagination.
The Disney and ETH researchers -- Javier Alonso-Mora, Andreas Breitenmoser, Martin Rufli, Roland Siegwart, and Paul Beardsley -- describe the work in a paper, "Multi-Robot System for Artistic Pattern Formation," presented yesterday at ICRA.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.