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"Sky" bot from Disney Reasearch (via Playing Catch and Juggling with a Humanoid Robot)



Ok, so the robot may induce a sense of fear into children playing with it, but it certainly makes up for its lack of personality with its dexterity. The robot in question is Disney Research's ‘Sky’ A-100 Audio Animatronics (hydraulic humanoid robot), which was designed to play catch or perform a two-man juggling routine. This is thanks to the bot's 39 degrees of freedom, 38 of which are driven by hydraulic actuators. Disney’s Sky is already in use at their theme parks. Sky sits atop a 25in base that houses the robots hydraulic valve manifold, pressure transducers (converts pressure into an analog signal) and computer connections. The robot’s feet are bolted to the box, which provides both balance and stability when interacting with the public. The robot uses its left hand for catching and throwing, which has been augmented with a protective base-plate that protects the finger actuators as well as a foam rim that gives the hand a cup-like shape to better catch and throw balls.


While Sky does have eyes, they serve no purpose and are strictly cosmetic. In order to ‘see’ and track a thrown ball in a 3D environment, the robot relies on an external camera system in the form of ASUS’s Xtion Pro Live. This system was used over Microsoft’s Kinect as the Xtion supports hardware synchronization of both the color and depth data streams. The system runs at 30Hz which happens to be the same as the control rate of the robot which allows the robot to position its hand based off of real-time tracking. Object tracking is done through OpenCV software that takes the color/depth data.  The bot then processes the data with OpenNI in conjunction with a Kalman filter that predicts the thrown objects timing and destination. The camera system also tracks the users location using a separate OpenNI (both skeletal and heap position) pipeline which is used for both object tracking and data acquisition that’s used to orient the robots head to ‘face’ the direction of the person interacting with it. Sky was also programmed to exhibit gestural animations, such as looking back or down, shrugging or shaking its head when the robot misses a catch. This gives the user the feeling that they are actually interacting with a sentient robot. Even those participating in initial testing with the bot found themselves apologizing to it for poor throws! It’s Disney’s hope that playing catch with their Sky robot will lead to further human robot interaction in the future for the companies theme parks. It does sound somewhat fun, to be honest.