Disney Partners With Hanson Robotics to Produce AI-Driven Children's Toys Based on Disney Characters

Wednesday, 14 June 2017 - 12:04PM
Weird Science
Artificial Intelligence
Robotics
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 - 12:04PM
Disney Partners With Hanson Robotics to Produce AI-Driven Children's Toys Based on Disney Characters
Image credit: Hanson Robotics, Notebook Italia
Robotics has come a long way in the past few decades, but it hasn't come far enough just yet. The Uncanny Valley still looms large, keeping us from realizing our dream/nightmare of a real-life Westworld. That said, someone at Disney has faith that robots will soon become more appealing to the human eye, as the company has signed a deal with Hanson Robotics to produce emotionally expressive, AI-driven robots that will look like popular Disney characters.

We've covered Hanson Robotics in the past—the company's work to create a lifelike humanoid robot is impressive, even if they've not quite nailed it just yet. At present, all of their work looks exceptionally creepy, as dead-eyed, jerky mechanical nightmares attempt to simulate human emotions in the most disturbing way possible:



This is all well and good for projects that are still at the research phase, but nobody's in a hurry to see, say, Mickey Mouse recreated as Freddy Fazbear. It's all the more concerning when you consider that Hanson's goal is to create robots that "will have emotional intelligence matching—and one day surpassing—human emotional intelligence".

So, yes, Disney wants you to buy a toy that is actively learning to outsmart you.

It's well worth assuming that whatever Disney-themed AI toys Hanson might design, they'll be vaguely similar to the company's Kickstarted Professor Einstein figure, which while smaller and more cartoonish than some of Hanson's creations, still looks a little like a mutated theme park animatronic:



The good news is that, for the most part, Disney's characters are already designed to stay as far away from the Uncanny Valley as possible—their big eyes and exaggerated expressions will probably lend themselves to this kind of technology better than an actual human face, even if the result might look a little like an overexcited Furby.

No matter how well-designed these toys might turn out, though, it's really hard to shake the "Itchy and Scratchy Land" vibe this entire project gives off.
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