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Disney has begun populating its parks with autonomous, personality-driven robots

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These robots are a great example of the “surprise and delight” factor that Disney does so well. I’m sure that, as all of this tech becomes easier and cheaper, that Disney will do many more.

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It’s good to see animatronic “robots” finding new work after all the pizza parlor closings in the past decade.

I used to watch animatronic “robots” play instruments and sing in the band at Major Magic’s, Showbiz Pizza, and of course, Chuck E. Cheese’s, when I was much, much younger. There’s a lot of nostalgia around these types of “robots” for many people, which is likely (at least one reason) why Disney has been integrating them into their parks.

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Can’t think of Chuck E Cheese or animatronics without thinking of Five Nights at Freddy’s now.

I think that a great question to ask here of our community members is whether they think these animatronic robots have unique personalities? If you attribute personality to these animatronic robots, do you attribute personality to these robots for a reason beyond their unique appearances? What are the elements of the robot design that communicate unique personality attributes?

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I’m really intrigued by their ‘personality remote’ pictured in the article - seems like it defines a 3D personality space (oblivious/observant, energy, intro/extrovert) with perhaps some dimensions being continuous, and others being discrete. And the use of a puppeteer to bootstrap the process of how those different personalities are expressed is key! I wonder if they’re selecting animations from the puppeted set or generating new ones at run-time…

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Well. @cameron, @Krystin, @Adriant, and @colin what are your thoughts?

This reminds me of the Furby, where it would rock back and forth, while singing, and would bat its eyes. Each Furby had a different color combination to make them unique and they would converse with you and each other using the Furby language (furbish?) I think when you put 2 together, they would tend to both dance together as well. Come to think of it, I’m not sure there’s been another robotic toy since the Furby that was so emotionally and socially intelligent. The only one that stands out is Cosmo. Cozmo | Meet Cozmo I came really close to getting one of these for myself, but was extremely turned off by requiring an app to be constantly running on my phone for this little guy to have life. I’m not sure I saw one of these in your offices, but I would say the Furby and Cosmo are what you would want to do as well as, or better than, when it comes to personality.

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This is the biggest downfall of Cozmo, who aside from that is quite interesting in the way they developed a “personality” with a minimal set of features.

The phrasing in dan’s reply leads me to believe that he feels each of these animatronic characters is expressing a different personality. To me, even with a puppeteer assisting the “robot” it has zero character and zero personality.

As a child, I never got the distinct impression that any of these animatronic “robots” was consistent in the way it was expressing itself. Yes, each “robot” was moving, but they were simple “back-and-forth” type motions, clearly repetitive. And yes, each “robot” had a different appearance, so they physically looked different to my eyes. And yes, each “robot” had a unique voice, but the sound was recorded and clearly repetitive. Every time the robot repeated a phrase, I could tell and immediately I was taken out of the illusion. Unlike the characters in the cartoons that I used to watch on television as a child, these animatronic creatures were too repetitive to have any character or personality at all. The repetitiveness takes me out of the experience, and for me personally, it quashes any possibility of having character or personality.

This is the perfect quote from the original article that captures most of what I’m trying to say…

“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,” says Wieland. “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?”

In my opinion, “staying in character” and not being on “a loop” are critical if you want to claim that you’ve achieved personality or character. Disney is focused on the interactivity to mitigate the lack of these qualities, but I would argue that interactivity and responsiveness to guests solely will not be sufficient to achieve personality.

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While I agree with Michael’s assertion that personality requires interactivity - mere open-loop repetition of pre-recorded animations doesn’t cut it, my take-away from the article was that these new creatures, the Vyloo, were NOT just looping through a script. In fact, the paragraph after the one Michael quotes runs:

“To that end, the Vyloo are programmed initially with a range of motions and actions they can take – squishing and stretching, cocking their heads, moving their necks around. These actions are then given over to a program that takes in signals from guests by tracking whether they’re looking at them, listening to the guests talk to the Vyloo while they’re staring at their cage and following them with their gaze when they move.”

Implying that there is some sort of sensing and feedback going on. How much interaction is truly taking place is hard to say without seeing them in person (field trip?).

Regardless, my initial question was more: Do the Vyloo generate novel behaviors on the fly, or does that controller basically just change the set of pre-recorded (from the puppeteer) animations that they can play? If the latter (suspected), then they’re still on the content treadmill…