Disney is always creating magic. From their movies to their parks, it’s easy and fun to enter into a world of make-believe. Disney makes their magic, in part, through animatronic robots of everyone’s favorite characters. Disney’s hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric robots have been a staple of Disneyland since the 60s. What Disney did not have before however, was autonomous, personality driven robots — until now.
Known as the Vyloo, these three, small, alien-like creatures are the first robots in Disney parks to be completely autonomous. They can interact with guests through non-verbal gestures and even have a wide range of expressive moods.
Leslie Evans, the Senior R&D Imagineer at Disney explains how these new robots came into being, “I think that a lot of this was coming out of this desire to start thinking about animatronics as actors, so being able to say we want these characters to be shy, we want them to be outgoing ‑‑ trying to define them in terms of personality ‑‑ and then translating all of that into the technical tools that we need to bring the characters to life.”
Alexis Wieland, the Executive R&D Imagineer, relayed the same sentiment, stating that this project was started with the intent to create something that the guests could feel a real emotional relationship with, albeit personality driven robots. Evans later went on to say, “As we watched them in the park, there’s something really magical about when one of these creatures looks at you. It’s enabling guests to play with our animatronics in a new way that we haven’t seen before, and I think the response to that has been very positive and super exciting that people are playing with these guys.”
The Vyloo robots are fitted with cameras, sensors, and all the ancillary equipment necessary so that the creatures can run around in their glass container. Many of these component parts have even been invented by Disney’s engineers intended exclusively for the personality driven robots. This is a much different set up than the rest of the robots in the park, which are attached to an external auxiliary system that controls and manipulates them.
Regarding the current status of Disney’s non-autonomous, non-personality driven robots, Wieland said, “Our characters right now give very polished, perfect performances, but they really are a loop in the sense that they don’t really respond to the guests, so bringing the characters down so they know the guests are there and actually respond appropriately.”
With the Vyloo robots as the first of Disney’s personality-driven robots, many more robots of the same autonomy could be placed throughout their parks for a richer, more interactive experience in the future. In the meantime however, guests can watch as the Vyloo squish, stretch, turn their heads around, and blow kisses to those who pass by. The Vyloo personality driven robots have become so loved, that guests can even catch a glimpse of the little robots in the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
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