Disney’s MakerFaire input more than a movie promo, it’s powering next generation of STEM

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There’s more to Disney’s involvement with MakerFaire than a giant, inflatable Baymax

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the centrepiece of the global MakerFaire is now a Disney branded event, but why, you might ask, is the House of Mouse so eager to be involved?

Big Hero 6, the studio’s next big animation about a boy who is obsessed with modern day digital design and manufacturing of robots, would appear to be the reason, but there’s much more at play.

Having bagged Pixar’s digital R&D department back in the day, Disney Research was founded on the same principles in 2008, looking into new technologies – and it stretches far further than some notions around 3D printing novelty action figures.

Disney has developed a fluid-filled transmission that allows the electric motors for each robot arm joint to be located inside the body, instead of mounted in the arms

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Collaborating closely with academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, Disney has been knocking out materials on subjects such as computer graphics, behavioural sciences and advanced robotics.

From this there have been some small novelties – such as the recent story about using optimisation software to 3D print spinning tops that should have no right in physics to do so – but they have bigger fish to fry.

There’s some mind-blowing stuff, some of it built around uses in theme parks, others for animation, yet some of it could go on to serve greater purposes in different industries, and by licensing it Disney stands to profit.

Robot task assignment and trajectory algorithms; low friction joints for robots, or visible light as an internet of things communicator – these are all being undertaken by Disney Research, and by supporting MakerFaire, Disney is encouraging the next generation of STEM-powered thinkers.

“Too often, science and creativity are treated as separate activities and not brought together. Not so at Maker Faire!” states a Disney press release. “Maker Faire embraces both aptitudes and enables a passionate community to come together to explore, be curious, mix mediums and disciplines and try new things.

“Sometimes the outcomes may result in failure, or possibly take a new shape or direction, but the process and the sharing of the finished pieces is what really brings together the maker community.”

Disney is throwing a lot at its R&D departments to ensure it stays ahead of the curve, and although it might be hard to see its participation in MakerFaire as little more than a promotion for its new studio animation and a gesture of goodwill, the company has a vested interest in developing new design and engineering talent.

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