As any Disney Imagineer who’s crept into the Hall Of Presidents late at night to cuddle with Abraham Lincoln can tell you, robots may look human, but they certainly don’t feel like it. All the sweet whisperings of the Gettysburg Address can’t distract from old Honest Abe’s jagged steel robot bones jutting into you, which is why Disney has filed a new patent application to build robots with the sort of soft sensuality that welcome human interaction with more than just their bedroom eyes.
CNN reports that these new robots would be markedly more “humanoid,” covered in supple skin and with some of its body filled with gas, just like you. These robots have been “adapted for soft contact and/or interaction with a human,” their parts operated by a controller that changes the interaction responsively in order to maintain safety. In the patent application, Disney is explicitly concerned with children’s safety, which has led some to suspect that it’s looking to have these soft, sensual machines roaming its amusement parks, doling out hugs and other forms of robot-human interplay that have inspired, at most, one iconic science-fiction dystopia and attendant parodies.
So far, Disney says it’s made only one “small, toy-sized” prototype modeled after one of its characters, including a sketch that strongly resembles Big Hero 6’s Baymax with its head removed, callously cast aside by dispassionate scientists who would never even suspect its growing resentment toward its human oppressors.
As Gizmodo points out, filing a patent doesn’t necessarily mean that Disney will actually move forward on putting these robots to work in its parks or make them available to purchase. But given its history of integrating robotics into its myriad entertainment experiences, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that someday all those stiff Abe Lincolns and cold Caribbean pirates could be supplanted by something with a little more family-friendly jiggle. All that remains now is working out the various legal and ethical questions, like what the “soft robot” would mean for employees and attendees of Disney’s parks, and how soon you can fuck it.