What is Animatronics?
Simply stated, an animatronic device is a mechanized puppet. It may be preprogrammed or remotely controlled. The device may only conduct a limited range of actions or it may be astonishingly versatile. It refers to the technology of animated electronics used to create lifelike animals, humans, robots, monsters, and other fantastical or mythical creatures that can move and produce sounds.
Through the combination of robotic, mechanical, computer and electrical engineering principles along with 3D modeling and sculpting, film and television creations have been able to design and develop unimaginable, highly graphic displays of tangible special effects technology that seamlessly combines with real people and real environments. Long before digital effects emerged, animatronics was creating cinematic history.
Animatronics are used in the entertainment sector when there is a need to portray someone (something) that is improbable or difficult to act. Of course, now CGI is used more and more to generate "impossible" things but this system has one major flaw - it cannot create the illusion needed in real-life applications.
A quick history
The history of animatronics begins with humble clockmakers. Several years ago high-level mechanical clocks were built in Europe which featured animated Figures. These figures moved or were hidden/displayed in time with the clock and with the sounds of the clock. So like modern animatronics, character movement was set to a specific time code and sound was introduced to attract awareness. Clockmakers used the characters to tell a simple or even complex stories
Various machines or mechatronic devices or robots, if you like, are really used in the movie industry to depict characters that would be impossible to depict otherwise. I am talking about the big dinosaurs from Jurassic Park or different aliens in MIB.
Audio animatronics is a trademark registered in 1967 by Walt Disney Imagineering. Hence, only Disney's entertainment robots can be named this way. Robots made by other companies are called referred to as "animatronics".
The Disney Company is a pioneer in this field. They started to use robots in their theme parks already in 60-ties. The most impressive early use of this field was The Enchanted Tiki Room. Nowadays, these devices are widely used in Disneylands all over the world. An important audio-animatronics technology is a so-called compliance. The earlier versions of AA devices could not perform sharp movements as the entire device would shake because of inertia and this would look unnatural. The compliance avoids this by allowing the limbs to move a bit past the programmed stop point and return to the needed position shortly after that.
If you move fast your arm and then try to abruptly stop it, you'll see the same outcome. Your arm will move a bit past the stop point due to inertia and swiftly return into the previous state. It means that by imitating the behavior of biological limbs the compliance technology makes Disney's AA devices even more natural.
So what’s the difference between Robotics and Animatronics?
There isn’t one, what it comes down to is the definition, this is because animatronics is a form of robotics, just like machine learning is a part of Artificial Intelligence. So all animatronics can be considered as robots but the reverse isn’t the case.
Where does A.I. fit into all of this
AI enhances animatronics in the ability to give them more complex reactions and interactions based on far simpler commands and inputs. So instead of having multiple controllers used to give life-like actions to these robots, instead we can have them respond and interact on their own without human intervention unlike what their predecessors required.
1. "Animatronics are used in the entertainment industry when there is a need to portray someone". (2019). Animatronics. Available: http://www.allonrobots.com/animatronics.html. Last accessed 28/10/2019.
2. Build Your Own Animatronic Skeleton http://www.wildrice.com/Halloween/Construction/Skeleton/
3. "Animatronics work in different ways. Smaller animatronics are usually powered by servos like the one shown below. ". (2015). HOW ANIMATRONICS WORK. Available: https://animatronicswithjames.weebly.com/how-animatronics-work.html. Last accessed 28/10/2019.
4. "Animatronics (combining the words Animation and Electronics) describes the technique of electronically animating three-dimensional characters,". (2018). Animatronics. Available: http://www.theatrecrafts.com/pages/home/topics/animatronics/. Last accessed 28/10/2019.