Disney uses adorable little robots to illustrate big ideas

Disney Research has had some neat ideas in the past (capacitive touch feedback for plants, as an example), but the lab's amped up the cute factor lately. Its newest project? Getting tiny, LED-adorned robots to illustrate things such as The Big Bang. Like a good deal of Mickey's science projects, the experiment, dubbed "Pixelbots," is based around interactivity. The 2-inch swarm bots use magnetic wheels to move about on vertical surfaces. Meanwhile, an algorithm ensures that they won't hit one another and RGB diodes keep the robots looking pretty. Individual units can even be plucked out of formation and the pack will intelligently work to fix the gaps and reform the original shape.

Patterns can either follow a pre-made script or be made on-the-fly with a few types of physical input. The embedded video shows a PC-based drawing program, gesture input that follows a user's body movements and, lastly, a tablet that grants multiplayer augmented reality games. As the researchers have told Wired, the experiments conducted with 75 of the micro machines could scale to a pack of 750 or more and make a display that "really grabs the attention" of passersby. Given the ethereal nature of Disney's research projects, though, when we might see the Pixelbots in one of Walt's parks isn't too clear.