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Watch Disney’s Stickman robot show off its amazing acrobatic skills

Stickman: Towards a Human Scale Acrobatic Robot

If you hear about a Disney-owned property called Stickman you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the next Marvel Cinematic Universe character in line for a movie adaptation. In fact, it’s an innovative robot created by researchers from the animation giant’s research and development wing Disney Research.

Given the name Stickman due to the fact that, well, it looks like a stick, this unorthodox robot is capable of performing acrobatic flips better than any robot since Boston Dynamics’ Atlas started upping his gymnastics game. These include some dazzling flips, which involve the robot swinging from a near-20-foot ceiling-mounted wire, then tucking into a ball to pull off assorted gravity-defying feats.

“Human performers have developed impressive acrobatic techniques over thousands of years of practicing the gymnastic arts,” a research paper describing the project notes. “At the same time, robots have started to become more mobile and autonomous and can begin to imitate these stunts in dramatic and informative ways. We present a simple two degree of freedom robot that uses a gravity-driven pendulum launch and produces a variety of somersaulting stunts.”

The two degrees of freedom refers to the robot’s ability to bend at two points. It is composed of three links and these allow it to fold into a tight tuck, thereby increasing and decreasing its rate of spin mid-flight. To work out when it needs to perform its movements, Stickman emulates the behavior of human performers by using simple sensing and actuation capabilities. Specifically, it utilizes three laser range-finders along with a six-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU), an electronic device which measures and reports a body’s specific force. Add in some smart algorithms and the robot is able to perform either a single flip, a double flip, or a motion which allows it to remain flat through a free fall.

In the past, Disney Research has been responsible for some pretty innovative projects — which have ranged from a wireless charging room to a haptic jacket that can simulate the sensation of a snake crawling across your body. While Disney hasn’t spelled out exactly how Stickman fits into its plans, we can imagine this having the makings of a fun theme park attraction. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a robot gymnastics display live show?

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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