Context-aware, personality-driven robot aliens are Disney's secret weapon at warming your heart
Disney is no stranger to innovation and so it should come as no surprise that it's finally rolled out autonomous, personality-driven robots into its Disney resorts.
Robots aren't anything particularly new to Disney World or Disneyland resorts, you see them adorning the side of rides and footpaths all over the park. Now though, thanks to the introduction of the Vyloo, these robots are no longer big machines connected back to a set of servers and breakers on-site. Now they're self-contained and context-aware creatures.
“What we pitched was a project to try to bring small autonomous animatronic creatures to life. We were really interested in the idea of creating some little guys that could truly respond to and interact with guests,” Leslie Evans, Senior R&D Imagineer at Disney, explains to TechCrunch.
“I think that a lot of this was coming out of this desire to start thinking about animatronics as actors, so being able to say we want these characters to be shy, we want them to be outgoing ‑‑ trying to define them in terms of personality ‑‑ and then translating all of that into the technical tools that we need to bring the characters to life.”
The Vyloo currently have a home in the Collector's collection room in the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT ride. Their purpose is to demo just how easy it is to have entirely autonomous robots throughout the park, while simultaneously adding value to attendee experiences.
“Our characters right now give very polished, perfect performances, but they really are a loop in the sense that they don't really respond to the guests, so bringing the characters down so they know the guests are there and actually respond appropriately,” explains Alexis Wieland, executive R&D Imagineer at Disney. “To stay in character is a big part of what we were trying to pull off here, and so moving in that direction is a big part of it. How do we make our characters more visceral in the moment with the guests?”
Placing the Vyloo in the Guardians of the Galaxy situation meant that Disney's Imagineers could see how well the technology actually interacted with park guests and how they felt towards the Vyloo.
Disney's resort staff are able to tweak the parameters of ho Vyloo react, creating a different experience on-the-fly for park guests. It means that for people who decide to ride multiple times, they'll get a different experience as the Vyloo's personality changes.
This isn't the first robotics experiment out of Disney's Imagineering team, nor will it be the last. Back in 2015 Disney revealed it was working on robots that can walk in a way that mimics animation styles, currently we're still yet to see those come to parks, but I'd be surprised if they're not still beavering away at trying to solve the problems of walking robots.
The Vyloo may be self-contained within a single ride, but the research that's gone into them would pave the way for bigger robots to roam the park and interact with guests. Let's just hope things don't go the way of Itchy & Scratchy Land from The Simpsons.