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I had absolutely no idea that Disney has a research lab, or more accurately, labs. I can’t help but be impressed, and a little scared. It turns out that while the main lab is in Zurich, Switzerland, right next to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH), there are a bunch of labs scattered around the U.S. too, including in Boston. Many of these labs focus on artificial intelligence, animation and graphics, and robotics. Recently, the House of Mouse filed a patent for an “Aerial Display System With Marionettes Articulated and Supported by Airborne Devices”—in other words, a helicopter that controls marionettes.
Last year Disney’s Zurich lab debuted its prototype, PuppetCopter Maurice. Maurice is a doll that looks like something of a cross between a robot and an alien. Its hexacopter can make the marionette wave, walk, fly, and light up in different colors. But Maurice is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Disney’s new patent, which is for the PuppetCopter system—a system that will be capable of handling much larger (and thus much more terrifying) puppets.
Perhaps the most burning question here is why Disney would invest resources in a system such as this one? For one thing, no one’s hands will get tired during the puppet show. And just think of the scale of the entertainment possibilities—we could watch a puppet show play out in the sky overhead. A regular airplane or other flying device might struggle with that, but not PuppetCopter.
In fact, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in general are an area of interest to Disney Research—they also filed other patents for a UAV-controlled projection screen and a system for performing an aerial display with UAVs, which is a bit like Disney’s image-creating two-wheeled Pixelbots (see the video below), except in the sky instead of an a table or device.
It’s interesting that Disney appears to be moving from the screen to the sky, but we already knew that they were going to take over the world soon anyway, right? At least they’ll keep us entertained with dancing puppets as they’re doing so.