Big Hero 6 is the latest animated film from Disney. The hero is a robot, but not the hard, metal kind most people associate with the word. It is a soft robot, a sort of vaguely human-shaped bag of gas, according to NBC.com.
The whole idea of Baymax, the caretaker robot in the movie, occurred to co-director, Don Hall, during a visit to Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, where a person can find everything, according to NPR.com
“It really became apparent when we saw the soft robotics that that would be our ticket to putting a robot on the screen we had never seen before,” Don Hall explained in a CMU news release.
According to NBC.com, a powerful, metal-shelled robots may have a place in risky and industrial situations, but human environments call for a softer touch. In Disney’s movie, robotics prodigy Tadashi Hamada makes the marshmallow man Baymax as a domestic helper, and his younger brother Hiro later adapts it to help defend the made up city of San Fransokyo against an evil genius.
“Their vision is very specific: You’re going to be taken care of by a humanoid robot,” said CMU robotics professor Chris Atkeson, whose lab Hall visited. “And you don’t need a big honking metal monster to do that.”
People want something with a better bedside manner and one that isn’t going to cause a bruise if it bumps into a person. Atkeson’s work focuses on “soft robots” that use unconventional materials and means of locomotion, stated NPR.com.
“Hard” robots may use gears and pistons to move their heavy limbs, but those created in Atkeson’s lab can utilize things like air pressure or lightweight artificial muscles. Siddharth Sanan, now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, created the inflatable robotic limb that helped inspire Baymax’s soft, gas-filled body, according to NBC.com.