Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) has a long tradition of animatronic figures in their theme parks. Some are integral parts of the immersive experience that Disney strives to create. Others, less so.
But all Disney animatronics thus far have been part of the show, as opposed to interactive elements of the park. Until the Vyloo, Disney’s first animatronics that respond to and interact with the guests.
The Vyloo are small aliens from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Now, Disney guests can see — and play with — the Vyloo on the line for the movie’s ride, “Mission: BREAKOUT!”
The three small robots have moods and can interact with guests through non-verbal gestures and cues. According to Senior R&D Imagineer, Leslie Evans, Disney was interested in “creating some little guys that could truly respond to and interact with guests” and have a “spectrum of personalities.”
At first, Disney referred to the Vyloo project as “Tiny Life” and the name fits. In addition to adjustable attitudes, energy and interactivity levels, the Vyloo are entirely self-contained. The rest of the robots in the park have to be hooked up to external systems to function.
The Vyloo are programmed with a range of motions and actions, from stretching and head cocking, to tongue sticking out and “kissy faces.” They also contain a series of sensors that take in signals from guests. So they interact differently based on if guests are looking at or talking to them. When guests walk away, the Vyloo even follow them with their gaze.
Whether you find this fascinating or horrifying — or some combination of the two — there’s no denying that this is a big step for Disney animatronics.
Executive R&D Imagineer Alexis Weiland 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, to stay in character is a big part of what we were trying to pull off here, and so moving in that direction is a big part of it. How do we make our characters more visceral in the moment with the guests?”
The robotics lab at Disney is definitely a unique one. They focus on the emotional believability of their creations over their efficiency. But that doesn’t make the lab less innovative and impressive. The team often invents new parts and components for their creations. And their robots often operate for upward of ten hours a day for 365 days a year, under scrutiny from millions.
Disney plans to make many more of these creatures that interact with the public in their parks — all with the goal of increasing the “delight factor” for guests. We’re in a time where technological developments, particularly in robotics and AI, are flourishing like never before. And while technologies like digital assistants and autonomous driving definitely have huge implications for the future, it’s interesting to see Disney focusing on the more emotional elements of AI.
The Vyloo are definitely the start of something new at Disney’s theme parks. And following some less endearing headlines about Disney’s animatronics, they’re almost cute.
As of this writing, Regina Borsellino did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.