When it comes to the advancement of modern technology, never underestimate Walt Disney. The company's Imagineering Research and Development department — the engineers, scientists and artists responsible for a number of the parks' special and VFX — have arguably contributed more high-end gadgets to society than the Pentagon. Skype-ing and touch-screen iPads might be novel for us, but the hardware is old hat for Disney, having employed their forerunners at Epcot during the '80s.
Well, now those Imagineers have really done it: They've created The Amazing Destini, a fortune-telling interactive robot who might actually be the first ancestor to Androids — even though he looks like he evolved from Muppets. The whole Destini concept makes Steven Spielberg's film A.I. Artificial Intelligence look like a prophecy.
“Destini is a character who has fully interactive, non-scripted, real time conversations with guests,” explained Walt Disney Imagineer Josh Gorin, “There's no human operator involved, no actor, puppeteer or performer. Destini is driven by a sophisticated system that involves sensors, artificial intelligence, video and face recognition.”
I took the opportunity to speak with Destini in the following clip:
As you can see, he's a flattering guy who does most of the talking. One of Destini's supposed talents, aside from screaming your fortune out, is remarking on your appearance. Much to my chagrin, people often mistake me for Nathan Lane and I feared that Destini would too. Some even say I look like Monkees frontman Davy Jones and I was hoping Destini might recognize this. Never mind. He was too busy working on his comedy routine.
Following D23, Destini isn't getting his own show at the park — rather he's heading back to the lab for research purposes. His presence at the fan expo served as a live test: Like Koko the gorilla, the more Destini interacts with people, the smarter he gets. He's a marvelous prototype which will pave the way for the evolution of robots at the park, potentially sidelining the animatronics that came before him.
Destini's papa was Otto, a robot who sang, danced and interacted with guests at D23 2009.
“The technology has evolved over the last two years where [the robots] can have one on one, one on two or one on three conversations with guests,” says Gorin. “People don't realize that to get a computer to understand what's going on, to respond in character with personality, in an engaging and entertaining way, is enormously difficult.”
Destini was featured at D23's techno rotunda exhibit The Carousel of Projects (a title that is a nod to Walt Disney's 1964 New York World's Fair techno exhibit Carousel of Progress), which showcases forthcoming Disney Park rides, advancements and layouts.
Another life-like spectacle who hammed it up with the crowd was Talking Mickey Mouse. Essentially, he's a real person in a character suit, but with a head that speaks to humans. It's essentially a large Jim Henson-like Muppet in action. Unlike, Destini, Talking Mickey actually has a musical gig at Disneyland and even moonlights as a drummer in the Soundsational Parade. Like every Hollywood big wig, Mickey was running 15 minutes late Sunday night with his fan meet n' greet and made no apologies for it. Luckily, what Mickey lacked in punctuality, he made up for with his adorable charm as seen below.