Disney Robot With Air-Water Actuators Shows Off “Very Fluid” Motions

Like other Disney creations, Jimmy looks rather magical.

While humanoid robots can be painfully slow, Jimmy moves with lifelike speed and grace. A video posted earlier this year shows the robot waving at people, doing a little dance, drumming on a table. Just as impressive, Jimmy can safely operate near people, and by “near” we mean in contact with them. In the video, the robot plays patty-cake with a kid and even pats her cheeks—something you don’t see very often in human-robot interaction experiments.

There’s no magic, of course, just beautiful engineering. Jimmy is not powered by the bulky electric motors and gears commonly used in humanoid robots; instead, it relies on a new kind of actuator designed by Disney researchers that consists basically of tubes filled with air and water. And while the current version of the robot requires a human puppeteer to control its movements, future models could be made fully autonomous.

To find out more about Jimmy, we spoke with John P. Whitney, who led the development of the robot while at Disney Research in Pittsburgh; he’s now a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University in Boston,…[Read more]