Disney’s Robots Use Rockets to Stick the Touchdown


It’s arduous to think about a extra dramatic solution to make an entrance than falling from the sky. Whereas it actually occurs typically sufficient on the silver display screen, whether or not or not it may be performed in actual life is a tantalizing problem for our leisure robotics crew at Disney Analysis.


Falling is difficult for 2 causes. The primary and most blatant is what Douglas Adams known as “the sudden cease on the finish.” Each second of free fall means one other 9.8 m/s of velocity, and that may rapidly add as much as an especially tough vitality dissipation drawback. The opposite tough factor about falling, particularly for terrestrial animals like us, is that our regular strategies for controlling our orientation disappear. We’re used to counting on contact forces between our physique and the atmosphere to manage which manner we’re pointing. Within the air, there’s nothing to push on besides the air itself!

Discovering an answer to those issues is a giant, open-ended problem. Within the clip beneath, you possibly can see one method we’ve taken to start out chipping away at it.

The video exhibits a small, stick-like robotic with an array of 4 ducted followers hooked up to its prime. The robotic has a piston-like foot that absorbs the influence of a small fall, after which the ducted followers hold the robotic standing by counteracting any tilting movement utilizing aerodynamic thrust.

Two people outdoors holding a tall silver object.Raphael Pilon [left] and Marcela de los Rios consider the efficiency of the monopod balancing robotic.Disney Analysis

The standing portion demonstrates that pushing on the air isn’t solely helpful throughout freefall. Standard strolling and hopping robots rely on floor contact forces to keep up the required orientation. These forces can ramp up rapidly due to the stiffness of the system, necessitating excessive bandwidth management methods. Aerodynamic forces are comparatively tender, besides, they have been ample to maintain our robots standing. And since these forces may also be utilized through the flight part of working or hopping, this method may result in robots that run earlier than they stroll. The factor that defines a working gait is the existence of a “flight part” – a time when not one of the toes are in touch with the bottom. A working robotic with aerodynamic management authority might doubtlessly use a gait with a protracted flight part. This could shift the burden of the management effort to mid-flight, simplifying the leg design and presumably making fast bipedal movement extra tractable than a reasonable tempo.

A man with silvery beard and mustache wearing safety googles and headphones sits in front of a mechanism on the floor.Richard Landon makes use of a check rig to judge the thrust profile of a ducted fan.Disney Analysis

Within the subsequent video, a barely bigger robotic tackles a way more dramatic fall, from 65’ within the air. This easy machine has two piston-like toes and an identical array of ducted followers on prime. The followers not solely stabilize the robotic upon touchdown, in addition they assist hold it oriented correctly because it falls. Inside every foot is a plug of single-use compressible foam. Crushing the froth on influence gives a pleasant, fixed pressure profile, which maximizes the quantity of vitality dissipated per inch of contraction.

Within the case of this little robotic, the mechanical vitality dissipation within the pistons is lower than the overall vitality wanted to be dissipated from the autumn, so the remainder of the mechanism takes a reasonably arduous hit. The scale of the robotic is a bonus on this case, as a result of scaling legal guidelines imply that the strength-to-weight ratio is in its favor.

The energy of a part is a operate of its cross-sectional space, whereas the load of a part is a operate of its quantity. Space is proportional to size squared, whereas quantity is proportional to size cubed. Which means that as an object will get smaller, its weight turns into comparatively small. This is the reason a toddler might be half the peak of an grownup however solely a fraction of that grownup’s weight, and why ants and spiders can run round on lengthy, spindly legs. Our tiny robots make the most of this, however we will’t cease there if we wish to symbolize a few of our greater characters.

Two people kneel on the floor working on a silver contraption.Louis Lambie and Michael Lynch assemble an early ducted fan check platform. The platform was mounted on guidewires and was used for lifting capability exams.Disney Analysis

In most aerial robotics functions, management is supplied by a system that’s able to supporting your entire weight of the robotic. In our case, having the ability to hover isn’t a necessity. The clip beneath exhibits an investigation into how a lot thrust is required to manage the orientation of a pretty big, heavy robotic. The robotic is supported on a gimbal, permitting it to spin freely. On the extremities are mounted arrays of ducted followers. The followers don’t have sufficient pressure to maintain the body within the air, however they do have quite a lot of management authority over the orientation.

Sophisticated robots are much less more likely to survive unscathed when subjected to the extraordinarily excessive accelerations of a direct floor influence, as you possibly can see on this early check that didn’t fairly go based on plan.

On this final video, we use a mix of the earlier strategies and add yet one more functionality – a dramatic mid-air cease. Ducted followers are a part of this resolution, however the high-speed deceleration is principally completed by a big water rocket. Then the mechanical legs solely should deal with the final ten toes of dropping acceleration.

Whether or not it’s utilizing water or rocket gasoline, the precept underlying a rocket is identical – mass is ejected from the rocket at excessive velocity, producing a response pressure in the wrong way by way of Newton’s third regulation. The upper the circulate price and the denser the fluid, the extra pressure is produced. To get a excessive circulate price and a fast response time, we wanted a large nozzle that went from closed to open cleanly in a matter of milliseconds. We designed a system utilizing a chunk of copper foil and a customized punch mechanism that completed simply that.

Two photos show someone on a ladder manipulating a small tank on the left, and on the right a black cylindar with a clear tube out of the bottom and splashing water coming up from the ground.Grant Imahara pressurizes a check tank to judge an early valve prototype [left]. The water rocket in motion – observe the laminar, two-inch-wide circulate because it passes via the specifically designed nozzleDisney Analysis

As soon as the water rocket has introduced the robotic to a mid-air cease, the ducted followers are in a position to maintain it in a steady hover about ten toes above the deck. Once they lower out, the robotic falls once more and the legs soak up the influence. Within the video, the robotic has a few free tethers hooked up as a testing precaution, however they don’t present any help, energy, or steerage.

“It won’t be so apparent as to what this may be instantly used for as we speak, however these tough proof-of-concept experiments present that we would be capable of work inside real-world physics to do the excessive falls our characters do on the large display screen, and sometime really stick the touchdown,” explains Tony Dohi, the challenge lead.

There are nonetheless numerous issues for future tasks to deal with. Most characters have legs that bend on hinges relatively than compress like pistons, and don’t put on a belt made from ducted followers. Past problems with packaging and kind, ensuring that the robotic lands precisely the place it intends to land has fascinating implications for notion and management. Regardless, we expect we will verify that this sort of entrance has–for those who’ll excuse the pun–fairly the influence.

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