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The happiest place on Earth has taught one of its humanoid robotic subordinates (for now) to play catch and juggle with willing human participants in an impressive display of creepy animatronic autonomy. Thanks to Disney, mankind has just slipped several minutes closer to its imminent enslavement by robotic overlords of the future.
In order for the robot to play catch, designers gave the unit a cup-shaped, human-like hand. The robot uses an Asus Xtion Pro Live camera to track faces and incoming balls – a device which works similarly to the Microsoft Kinect. Incidentally, the project actually began with a Kinect camera but researchers eventually settled on the Xtion Pro Live because they didn't need Kinect's panning motor or microphone.
Once the robot catches a ball, it gently tosses it back to the person. The robot is quick enough that designers were able to make it "juggle" with human partners through a rapid succession of tosses and catches.
In addition to playing catch and team-juggling, researchers managed to add a little finesse to the robot. When it doesn't catch the ball – and depending on where the ball lands – the artificial humanoid is programmed to shrug, follow the ball over its shoulder or direct a somber gaze toward its "feet" below in seeming disappointment. The robot also tracks the ball with its face, giving onlookers the illusion its following the ball with its eyes.
Disney hopes to introduce such juggling automatons at its amusement parks.