Sci Fi Ideation Movie Night #2: Big Hero 6

Earlier this week, I hosted the second Lemnos Sci-Fi Movie Night. Last time, we watched WALL-E. We wanted to continue the robotics theme, this time we chose Big Hero 6.

As a reminder, the rules are:

  • Get eight people in a room, pick an awesome sci-fi movie, and watch the first 45 minutes.
  • During that time, write on a Post-it note everything in the movie that is a technology that doesn’t exist yet.
  • At the end of the 45 minutes, put all the notes on a white board.
  • Then ask, “Which of these could happen in the next five years?”

In Big Hero 6, there were four major ideas we thought were viable. Unsurprisingly, given our interest in robotics, two of the four involve the future of robots.

  1. Large-Scale Swarming Robots: Cooperative swarming robots are key to the plot of the movie. Our discussion focused on why these are possible and what could be done with them. While people have been working on swarm for some time, it seems that the megatrends in robotics continue to make swarm easier to realize. As sensors become free, battery density gets better, and advanced manufacturing techniques like metal 3D printing and metal injection molding become mainstream, these types of swarms become more viable. In addition, low power communications protocols add to the effectiveness of the swarm. Some of the industries and products we could see swarming robots deployed in were mining, movement, construction, on-demand fences, and possibly body armor.
  2. Soft Robotics: One of the more interesting traits of Big Hero 6’s main robot, Baymax, is that it has a soft pliable exterior. This means that as it interacts with humans and other objects, the robot can be less careful because the possibility of damage is much less. We discussed if it would be possible to create a Baymax-type robot with a metal frame and balloon exterior. We concluded that not only would it be possible, it would also make deployment of humanoid robots in peopled settings much easier. We also had the idea of placing items similar to car airbags on the exterior of the robot’s arms to inflate if it was about to collide with something.
  3. Perceptive Robots: This fictional idea is already coming true. With the advent of Jibo, Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri, Siri, and others, we’re starting to interact with limited artificial intelligence on a daily basis. The major limitation with these systems has been the limited number of commands and questions they understand and their lack of context outside of that. In one scene, Baymax sees the main character fall over. Baymax rushes over and comments, “You have fallen.” Inside this statement is a complex understanding of the normal human state vs. what just happened. That said, we won’t see robots this capable of perception for a while. In the near term, we think that these types of robots are more like to emerge as helpers to humans in specific jobs. We see interesting opportunities to broaden the application set in areas like nursing and the service industry.
  4. Man/Machine Interfaces: There were two interesting examples of new types of human-computer interaction (HCI) on display. The first was an EEG-esque device that the main character wears to control the swarm by simply thinking of the things he wanted them to do. While we think that this won’t be available until the far future, we noted another example of HCI that is more likely in the near-term: the controller for the robot fight sequences in the beginning. Clearly, the robot has more advanced behavior than the controller could directly control. The viewer is left to believe that the controller is simply a command interface and the robot has significant autonomy. This is likely the future of connected robotics, where a human is in the loop when needed to give overall direction but is not controlling individual motors and sensorsIn our portfolio, robotics companies like Marble will be able to take advantage of this type of control.

Big Hero 6 was a great movie for Sci-Fi Movie Night because we ended up with so many great ideas. Some that didn’t make the cut but I still thought were interesting were magnetically controlled plasma torches, electromagnetic suspension, and “tiny power” (what would you do if battery density was 10x what it is currently?!).

If there was something we missed, let me know on Twitter @nomadicnerd.