Interesting Tidbit About Baymax in “Big Hero 6” !

When Don Hall saw a robot arm made of balloons while visiting Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute several years ago, he knew instantly that Baymax, a pivotal character in the animated feature he was co-directing for Disney, also would be an inflatable robot.

big heroThat movie, “Big Hero 6,” set to light up movie screens Nov. 7, is an action-packed, comedy-adventure in which Baymax, a gentle robot designed to care for humans, is transformed into a warrior and joins a band of high-tech heroes. As realized by Hall and his team of writers and animators, Baymax is both more huggable and more capable than anything now in Carnegie Mellon’s research labs.

But the fictional, balloon-like robot nevertheless reflects a growing field of research at Carnegie Mellon called soft robotics.

“The movie is a tremendous win for soft robotics,” said Chris Atkeson, professor of robotics. He said mobile robots made from soft materials — fabrics, balloons, light plastics — offer advantages over metal robots, including lower weight, lower cost and greater safety when operating near people.  Some of these robots will be wearable, others disposable. Yet in the public mind, robots are almost universally metal — whether they are the industrial robots that assemble cars or the robots of popular science fiction, such as Wall-E.

“I think this movie will be inspirational for a lot of people,” Atkeson added.

At Carnegie Mellon, researchers are proving that these soft robots can do real work while developing technologies, such as artificial muscles, touch sensors and pressure-sensitive skins, that will make them practical.

Among CMU’s soft robotics researchers is Yong-Lae Park, an assistant professor in the Robotics Institute and the founder of the Soft Robotics and Bionics Lab. Park is working with Atkeson to develop a lightweight robotic arm that will use balloons as exterior cushions, while employing pneumatic artificial muscles to actuate the arm. Park also is developing new types of soft, artificial skin sensors and soft artificial muscle actuators for controlling robotic devices, as well as strap-on devices that could be used to compensate for limb disorders or to extend human capabilities.

Carmel Majidi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, meanwhile heads the Soft Machines Lab, where he is working on soft, stretchable elastic films and flexible electronics that, when integrated into soft robots or clothing, could serve as artificial skin. In addition to soft actuators and sensors, his lab is developing new methods for rapidly and affordably making these materials using 3D printing and other advanced fabrication technologies.

“It really became apparent when we saw the soft robotics that that would be our ticket to putting a robot on the screen we had never seen before,” Hall said.

The inflatable robotic arm that proved so inspirational to Hall was developed in Atkeson’s lab by Siddharth Sanan during his Ph.D. thesis research.

“We did not invent the idea of an inflatable robot arm,” Atkeson said, “What we wanted to know was: how do we make it practical?”

It was a project within the National Science Foundation-sponsored Quality of Life Technology Center, which adapts robotic technology to meet the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities, so they were particularly curious to learn whether an arm of balloons could do work that required a high degree of safety — giving a patient a sponge bath, for instance, or feeding a patient.

Sanan, now a post-doctoral researcher working on soft, wearable robotics at Harvard University, spent years on the project, often studying inflatable pool toys and stand-up dolls for inspiration on how to build components of a functional, inflatable robot using tools such as heat sealers and heat guns.

“Based on the trailers I’ve seen of Baymax, it looks in a sense similar,” Sanan said. “The one missing ingredient in their robot is that you don’t see how the system is actuated,” he added. “It just moves magically.”

Sanan used cables to actuate the limbs of his robot, while designing pneumatically controlled hands. He demonstrated that the inflatable arm could indeed rub a washcloth against his body or maneuver a spoon into his mouth. He and Atkeson subsequently worked with firms such as iRobot and OtherLab that are developing soft robots for the marketplace.

Health care is a natural application for inflatable robots; robots made of soft materials are less likely to cause injury. But Sanan also emphasizes that inflatable robots could be exceptionally portable — something that could be stowed in a backpack, for instance, or launched into space as a small package.

“We also are looking at cheap ways of making robots,” Atkeson said. “One way is to steal from the clothing and toy industries, which already know how to make stuff inexpensively.”

Fabrics and plastics are inexpensive and cutting them and joining them by melting, gluing and sewing is something accessible to lots of people.

“We’re going to make Home Ec hot again,” he predicted.


About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon ( is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 12,000 students in the university’s seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon has campuses in Pittsburgh, Pa., California’s Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico.

Big Hero 6

With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Big Hero 6” is an action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius—thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion—a robot named Baymax—and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action, “Big Hero 6” is directed by Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”), and produced by Roy Conli (“Tangled”).

The film hits theaters in 3D Today –  November 7, 2014

Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Interesting Tidbit About Baymax in “Big Hero 6” !

  1. Debbie L. says:

    Very interesting – I always say to myself “How in the heck did someone think to do that!”

  2. aimee fauci says:

    All my kid talk about is Big Hero 6! I thought they wanted to see another kid movie but now.. it is this one.
    aimee fauci recently posted…Thanksgiving Turkey CookiesMy Profile

  3. Jeanine says:

    Neat! My oldest saw this last night and he said it was just fantastic!
    Jeanine recently posted…Easy DIY Puppets For KidsMy Profile

  4. Dawn says:

    This movie looks too cute. I can’t wait to see it.
    Dawn recently posted…10 Gorgeous DIY Christmas Angel CraftsMy Profile

  5. Pam says:

    I have really been wanting to see Big Hero 6. I didn’t even think of Baymax not being made of metal. It’s really cool, and now I’ll have to learn more about soft robotics.

  6. Donna says:

    We saw this movie yesterday. We loved it! A great family movie!
    Donna recently posted…13 Must Have Thanksgiving Cooking Essentials #BBNshopsMy Profile

  7. So glad the movie is inspiring people to be interested in robotics. I hope it creates a new interest in science.
    Beth@KCMompreneurs recently posted…Ami Ray with Endless XpressionsMy Profile

  8. Emily says:

    That is actually a very cool tidbit. I took my son to see this movie and he LOVES baymax. It will be interesting to see what real life does in the wake of the movie.
    Emily recently posted…10 Tips for Running with a Jogging Stroller #StrollerRun14My Profile

  9. Dina says:

    Very cool information that I didn’t know about Baymax. We had so much fun watching this movie last weekend. Loved it.
    Dina recently posted…Toilet Paper Turkey CraftMy Profile

  10. We can’t wait to see this movie. It is all my kids talk about!

  11. Between Get Geeked and Engadget in New York City, I am on robotics information overload lately! That and wearable tech! 🙂
    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly recently posted…Hey YOU!, Yeah YOU, Shut Up Sit Down & Eat! The Only Cure for @ItalianInsanity #Theatre #ComedyMy Profile

  12. Brandy says:

    I love this movie preview so much, I like the idea of taking my kids to see Big Hero 6. It looks so funny!
    Brandy recently posted…A few tips how to save money when buying make-up onlineMy Profile

  13. Alisha Kostiuk says:

    My kids love this movie. We just seen it in 3D.