DARPA is a Behind-the-Scenes Hero of ‘Big Hero 6’

Big Hero 6If your kids enjoyed the balloon-like robot Baymax of “Big Hero 6” over the holidays you can thank, in part, the brain-trust that is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for helping fund the inspiration.

DARPA has been funding research into “soft” robots under its Maximum Mobility Manipulation – MP3 – program, and it was an inflatable robotic arm spied by one of the Disney film’s directors that inspired Baymax, the healthcare companion, defense officials said.

Don Hall told Moviefone in July that he was visiting the robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University in 2011 when he saw the inflatable vinyl arm being developed as a nurse’s or doctor’s assistant.

“This particular researcher went into this long pitch but the minute he showed me that inflatable arm I knew we had our huggable robot,” Hall told Moviefone.

Carnegie is one of three facilities, along with iRobot Corp. of Bedford, Massachusetts, and Otherlab of San Francisco, receiving funding from DARPA and the National Science Foundation to develop soft robots, DARPA program manager Gill Pratt said last month. Otherlab produced this video demonstrating the arm.

DARPA’s M3 program is creating and demonstrating novel design tools, fabrication methods and control algorithms to make robots more mobile and better able to manipulate objects in their environment, Pratt said. This includes fabric-skinned robots that are filled with and manipulated by air.

“The M3 program has made great strides in making robots move more naturally like animals or humans move,” Pratt said. “Inflatable robots, like the arm developed at Carnegie Mellon, offer unique benefits such as high strength to weight, small size when uninflated, low fabrication cost, and safety when working around human beings.”

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