The enormous Expedition Everest Yeti animatronic has been motionless for 12 years. A patent filed by Disney may just bring the Yeti back to life. The patent, published December 31, 2020, details a system that suppresses vibrations caused by robotics, such as animatronics.
The Yeti’s large size and range of motion sent vibrations through the Expedition Everest structure, compromising its overall stability. As recently as Summer 2020, now-retired Imagineer Joe Rohde explained that a fix would be very complex. A system like the one detailed in the patent application could be a solution to the vibration problem, which is referenced in the patent: “For example, a robot may have an arm or leg that they move quickly from one location to a second location to provide a desired movement or move to a new pose, and the robot’s arm or leg may vibrate significantly upon stopping at the second location.” By ensuring smoother movements, this may usher in a new, next-level generation of audio-animatronics that can be anchored to a structure without affecting its structural integrity, no matter how large or unwieldy the animatronic is.
The patent details “Computational Vibration Suppression for Robotic Systems.” According to the patent abstract, a computer will analyze the intended animations, then predict vibrations. The vibrations will be minimized without sacrificing the “artistic or original intent of the provider of the animation cycle.”
In other words, the suppression system finds a better way to handle the animation. The patent also states that robot designers will be able to use “lighter and/or softer (less stiff) and, therefore, less expensive systems in new robots.”
The technology sounds similar to how noise-cancelling headphones work. Noise-cancelling headphones use microphones to pick up outside noise, then phase-invert the sound waves. In Disney’s patent, the computer, rigid components, and flexible components work to “cancel” vibrations. The optimized animations are more accurate and efficient, resulting in less vibration.
This diagram shows how rigid components and flexible components would work in conjunction.
The patent application includes drawings and data showing the vibration suppression system’s effectiveness. Two drawings (Figs. 3 and 4) show how deformable (flexible) components work.
Fig. 7 shows how the system works from start to finish. A target animation is programmed (720). When the animation runs, it does not produce the desired results (722). The computer then calculates the correction, minimizing vibration (724). The optimized fabricated mechanism performs as the target animation intended (726).
The patent application also includes practical examples of how Disney Imagineers could use the technology. One example is a robotic bartender.
The top row indicates how the robotic bartender should work (1020). Before optimization, the animatronic spills the drink (1030). Once optimized, the arm is able to move the drink without spilling it (1040).
Fig. 12 shows a boxing animatronic in non-optimized (1220) and optimized (1230) forms. The dashed lines in 1220 indicate the target animation. The optimized animation perfectly matches the target animation; no dashed lines are visible.
Lighter and less expensive animatronics with efficient movements would usher in countless possibilities for existing and future attractions. These innovations could also be used to create a new, functioning Yeti that will not jeopardize the Expedition Everest ride system.
WDWNT will continue to monitor this patent and others.