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Inflatable Robotics: The Incredible, Real Life Project that Inspired Disney’s Baymax

NanoWerk-RobotYou may have already seen Disney’s latest major motion picture, Big Hero 6, which features a new type of superhero: a giant balloon-like robot named Baymax.

What you may not know is that Baymax was inspired by a real life project to create an inflatable robot—one that’s just as squishy and powerful as the loveable hero on the big screen.

Don Hall, the film’s co-director, told that he was inspired to cast Baymax as an air-filled, soft robot after he saw an inflatable robotic arm on a visit to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. The arm was capable of such dexterity and human-like motion that Hall just had to make a character out of it. In this YouTube video, you can see for yourself the pneumatic arm that made Baymax come to life.

The project is being supported by an all-star cast of the robotics world—the iRobot Corporation, Otherlab and stands under the umbrella of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility Manipulation (M3) Program. The M3 program is working towards creating novel design tools, fabrication methods and control algorithms to make robots more mobile and better able to manipulate objects in their environment—and one area of research just happens to be fabric-skinned robots that are filled with and manipulated by air.

In the video, you can see the robot arm lifting a pail of water and holding an apple—all while being powered by air! It’s still a long way away from the polished version in the Disney movie, but it’s still pretty impressive. It’s another example of soft robotics, the field of engineering out of MIT dedicated to making robots with non-rigid parts. Because let’s be honest, Baymax wouldn’t be much fun if he were made out of rigid, metal parts like most robots are these days!

“The M3 program has made great strides in making robots move more naturally like animals or humans move,” says Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager. “Inflatable robots, like the arm developed at Carnegie Mellon, offer unique benefits such as high strength to weight, small size when uninflated, low fabrication cost, and safety when working around human beings.”

And working around humans is the real key test to how well a robot functions. An inflatable robot is much more fun to play with than some of DARPA’s other robotic all-stars. And if you’re like us at Dream It Do It, you’ll want your own version of Baymax in your own home too!

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