Robotics

Disney Research software makes mechanizing characters easy

Disney Research software makes...
With Disney Research's new software, even complex movements like four-legged walking can be easily generated in about half an hour (Photo: Disney Research)
With Disney Research's new software, even complex movements like four-legged walking can be easily generated in about half an hour (Photo: Disney Research)
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Disney Research has developed software that can automatically generate the mechanism to move an articulated character (Photo: Disney Research)
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Disney Research has developed software that can automatically generate the mechanism to move an articulated character (Photo: Disney Research)
The whole assembly can then be fabricated using rapid-prototyping technology like 3D printing (Photo: Disney Research)
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The whole assembly can then be fabricated using rapid-prototyping technology like 3D printing (Photo: Disney Research)
Users define an actuation point and draw a curve to represent its motion, the software generates the mechanism required to drive that motion (Photo: Disney Research)
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Users define an actuation point and draw a curve to represent its motion, the software generates the mechanism required to drive that motion (Photo: Disney Research)
Currently the software is limited to cyclical motions (Photo: Disney Research)
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Currently the software is limited to cyclical motions (Photo: Disney Research)
Cyclical motions are great for producing characters that walk or gallop (Photo: Disney Research)
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Cyclical motions are great for producing characters that walk or gallop (Photo: Disney Research)
The software also helps build the support structure for the character, which hides the mechanism (Photo: Disney Research)
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The software also helps build the support structure for the character, which hides the mechanism (Photo: Disney Research)
This frog character appears to swim using a mechanical assembly hidden inside its body (Photo: Disney Research)
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This frog character appears to swim using a mechanical assembly hidden inside its body (Photo: Disney Research)
Clocky appears to dance (Photo: Disney Research)
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Clocky appears to dance (Photo: Disney Research)
A rear view of Clocky's mechanism (Photo: Disney Research)
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A rear view of Clocky's mechanism (Photo: Disney Research)
The physical version of Clocky is driven by a power drill (Photo: Disney Research)
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The physical version of Clocky is driven by a power drill (Photo: Disney Research)
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This character moves when its wheels are pushed on the ground (Photo: Disney Research)
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This character moves when its wheels are pushed on the ground (Photo: Disney Research)
The software simulation of a robotic dog called EMA (Photo: Disney Research)
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The software simulation of a robotic dog called EMA (Photo: Disney Research)
The physical version of a robotic dog called EMA (Photo: Disney Research)
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The physical version of a robotic dog called EMA (Photo: Disney Research)
EMA requires a much more sophisticated assembly in order to gallop (Photo: Disney Research)
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EMA requires a much more sophisticated assembly in order to gallop (Photo: Disney Research)
The physical version of EMA's galloping form (Photo: Disney Research)
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The physical version of EMA's galloping form (Photo: Disney Research)
Trex even bobs its head as it walks (Photo: Disney Research)
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Trex even bobs its head as it walks (Photo: Disney Research)
This biped stands upright with the help of a walker (Photo: Disney Research)
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This biped stands upright with the help of a walker (Photo: Disney Research)
Unfortunately, it loses its balance on firm ground (Photo: Disney Research)
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Unfortunately, it loses its balance on firm ground (Photo: Disney Research)
A close-up of a scorpion's mechanical assembly (Photo: Disney Research)
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A close-up of a scorpion's mechanical assembly (Photo: Disney Research)
The scorpion walks (Photo: Disney Research)
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The scorpion walks (Photo: Disney Research)
With Disney Research's new software, even complex movements like four-legged walking can be easily generated in about half an hour (Photo: Disney Research)
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With Disney Research's new software, even complex movements like four-legged walking can be easily generated in about half an hour (Photo: Disney Research)
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Mechanized characters, such as clockwork automatons that move using a series of gears, go back hundreds of years. Now the most difficult aspect of their mechanical design, which took specialized engineering skill and lots of trial and error, has largely been eliminated by a pair of new software tools developed by Disney Research labs in Zürich and Boston, and labs at ETH Zürich and MIT. They're being presented this week at ACM SIGGRAPH 2013, the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.

The first set of tools allows a designer to load an articulated character model into the software, where they define the actuation points on its joints. Then by simply drawing a curve to represent the desired path of a joint, the software automatically builds and optimizes the mechanical assembly that will produce it. The software then optimizes the whole assembly for fabrication (such as 3D printing). Currently the software only generates cyclical motions, such as walking or dancing, but the cool thing is the movements are driven by only a single motor.

The physical version of Clocky is driven by a power drill (Photo: Disney Research)
The physical version of Clocky is driven by a power drill (Photo: Disney Research)

The second set of tools allows the creation of elastic figures that move by deformation rather than articulation, such as jelly monsters, plants and jiggling buildings, from digital characters. A 3D character is loaded into the software in its neutral shape along with duplicates that have already been posed to serve as target shapes.

Actuation points are then assigned by the user or generated automatically by the software to suit different actuators such as strings, pins, or clamps. The software calculates what parts of the character ought to be rigid or soft to allow for movement without changing its overall appearance. For example, flexible materials might be placed around the joints, while the limbs themselves would be rigid. 3D printing or another rapid manufacturing technique can then be used to fabricate the character.

The researchers tested the software by designing ten animated characters, which took about a half an hour apiece. Then seven of the characters were fabricated using 3D printing technology. It's unclear if Disney will ever release the software to the general public, but with the growing interest in 3D printers it would be a boon to artists everywhere.

In the meantime, the team continues to develop the software with a more ambitious goal in mind. "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," says Steliam Cross, an associate research scientist at Disney Research, Zürich, suggesting that Disney plans to incorporate more complex animatronics into its attractions.

This follows recent announcements from Disney Research including software that can imitate an artist's drawing style and another that builds detailed 3D models from video footage. See the software, and the mechanical characters come to life, in the video below.

Source: Disney Research via IEEE Spectrum

Computational Design of Mechanical Characters

View gallery - 22 images
3 comments
BigGoofyGuy
I hope they do release it to the general public. I think that is way and has a lot potential for creating things only limited by ones imagination and ability.
Stradric
What better way to illustrate the beauty of mathematics, computer science, engineering and human ingenuity is there than this? Every child in school should be introduced to this project. Really beautiful stuff here.
GusALK
It reminds me of Theo Jansen work!