Disney is Researching Variable Activation 3D Printed Controls

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Like many others in the millennial generation, some of my fondest childhood memories involve a Disney character, story, or toy in some way. I remember spending hours playing the Toy Story CD-rom games, my sister refusing to ever put down her Princess Jasmine doll, and my brother somehow convincing our parents to take us all to see The Lion King in theatres…eight times.

disney-researchThe Walt Disney Company, the storied multi-billion dollar American entertainment corporation, has always been a leader in the entertainment industry. In more recent years, Disney Research has been actively exploring the world of 3D printing as well. Whether it’s turning any 3D printed object into a spinning top, 3D printing realistic hair on a figurine, creating a 3D felt printer, or a fabric 3D printer for creating soft interactive objects, the company continues to develop unique applications within the 3D printing space.

The latest research paper from Disney explores the concept of 3D printed objects capable of variable activation forces. The paper, written by researchers from the HCI Institute and the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University along with Disney Research Pittsburgh, describes 3D printed objects that take advantage of pneumatic elements, containing or operated by air or gas under pressure, to create mechanisms that require different levels of actuation force and are also able to change shape.design

overviewThe mechanisms would employ pneumatics and other standard sensing techniques for press, linear, and rotary input controls to create controls that could be activated with light pressure, or require greater force in other circumstances. In other words, this would enable the interface or platform that is being interacted with to provide the user with tactile feedback. This capability further demonstrates the 3D printing processes capabilities in the growing field of haptics, or tactile feedback technology designed to recreate the sense of touch.

The researchers fabricated the controls using multi-material, photo-polymer 3D printing techniques. The pneumatic chambers were printed both in parts, using rigid threaded joints and Teflon seal tape, and in one piece using auxiliary supports. Some of the capabilities of the initial designs are variable control buttons, sliders, and turning knobs. The process was designed to be straightforward, affordable, and replicable for the purpose of prototyping custom devices.options

It’s exciting to think about the potential application of these mechanisms. Some suggested by the researchers were a chomping alligator toy, biting down when pressure is applied to its belly, a responsive lamp that incorporates three LED lights with a pneumatic device, and a volume knob that increases pressure the further it turns from the middle position in order to maintain a safe volume range.

Merchandising has been a very large part of Disney’s business for decades. It will be interesting to see how they incorporate these applications with their interactive toys, such as their most recent hit – the Disney Infinity platform, and the rest of their broad merchandise offerings.

What do you think? Let us know is the Disney’s 3D Printed Controls forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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