At this point in our technological history, robots have built to perform every physical job that humans do. Well, almost every physical job. There is still one job that hasn’t been successfully roboticized before: acrobat. But, even that decidedly human profession may soon have mechanical competition thanks to Disney Research’s new Stickman robot.
Like most of the creations developed by Disney Research, the goal of Stickman is to experiment with potential new entertainment technology. The Arduino-controlled robot achieves its acrobatic abilities with the use of pneumatic pistons and a pendulum. Humans are able to perform acrobatic feats by shifting their weight to control their relative inertia, such as an ice skater tucking their arms in order to pirouette more quickly — which is exactly what Stickman does.
Stickman is able to replicate that using just two degrees of freedom on a single plane. It starts be swinging on a cable to gain momentum, and then releases itself to soar into the air. While it’s in the air, an IMU (inertial measurement unit) and a laser range finder are used to determine its position. At the right point in the arc, it tucks into a somersault. Then, it extends itself again in time to land on a mat.
While you’re not likely to see Stickman at any Disney World performances anytime soon, it’s a big step towards robotic entertainment. Aside from that entertainment value, it’s also valuable research into the quick response needed for dynamic robot movement.