Disney files a new patent application for robots, specifically naming "humanoid robots," that are designed to interact with theme park guests, including children. Robots and androids living among humans has been a popular theme explored by cinema for decades. Sometimes the robots are portrayed as threats to humanity, as in James Cameron's The Terminator (the long-running franchise that is reportedly being revived again after Terminator: Genisys failed to live up to expectations), or as adorable and helpful allies, such as Baymax in Marvel and Disney's Big Hero 6.
The most recent pop culture phenomenon to depict robots living alongside humans was the first season of HBO's Westworld, a TV adaptation of Michael Crichton's 1973 sci-fi film of the same name (which itself inspired a sequel and a 1980s television continuation). The first season of HBO's series followed the android hosts and human guests of a themepark crafted to resemble the Old West, but the androids began to gain consciousness, which had disastrous effects for the park. Now, the Disney theme parks may be getting their own robots - but it isn't quite a Westworld situation.
CNN is reporting Disney has filed a new patent application for "humanoid robots" that have been "adapted for soft contact and/or interaction with a human." In order to interact with children, the robots have been designed as "soft and durable." Furthermore, the patent filing states, "This robot's style and other motions...were modeled after a given animated character (e.g., a character from an animated film or television show)." Take a look at some of the schematics for the humanoid robot:
Although Disney's patent filing doesn't confirm which character in their extensive animated library inspired this particular robot's design, the schematics are reminiscent of Baymax from Big Hero 6, which would no doubt make sense considering the character is the most marketable from the 2014 animated feature. Plus, within the story of Big Hero 6, Baymax is an inflatable healthcare robot created by Hiro's older brother - though Disney's patent describes a much more durable robot than Baymax.
Of course, there are a number of other characters Disney may have modeled their robot after - the body schematic is also reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh, for instance - but it's unlikely Disney will reveal more about this particular prototype anytime soon. Additionally, since Disney is only filing the patent now, it's unclear when - or if - these robots would be introduced to their parks. It may be years before Disney's humanoid robots are ready to interact with humans, but that remains to be seen.
Still, for those worried Disney will go down the Westworld path, it doesn't appear their technology is quite at the point of lifelike, near-conscious androids - yet.