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Chester the Robot

I was the head mechanical engineer in the design and construction of Chester, an interactive robot built at Disney Research Pittsburgh. Chester was created so that researchers at Disney could perform a series of studies exploring human/robot interaction.

We gave Chester the appearance of a small piece of furniture so it would match the office surroundings. The robot appeared to be made of solid wood but was lightweight enough to be safe for human interaction and easy to handle.
I designed the body of the robot with a light aluminum frame and a covering of acrylic panels with wooden veneer to create a solid, finished look that was still lightweight and easy to machine. We used this wooden facade to create a body that looked aesthetically pleasing, friendly, and approachable. Special attention was paid to Chester’s face.
The robot interacted with young participants by opening a set of drawers that held gifts. I created a method for articulating the drawers that would ensure a child’s fingers would not be hurt or pinched while playing with the robot.
I designed a clutch system where the drawers are moved by a set of wheels located under the drawer. The wheels are calibrated so that if a participant pulls on the drawers or is at risk of their fingers being pinched, the wheels slip and no longer apply force on the drawer. This protects both the robot and the participant from harm.
An additional design challenge included hiding a depth camera on the robot for recording the location of participants. We created a lamp, made of interconnected laser cut pieces, that was patterned to disguise the lenses of the camera. A projector and mirror system inside the lamp projected a set of eyes on the shade, turning the lamp into a second character that Chester could talk to.
Chester has been used successfully in a number of studies of human/robot interaction.

​CAD rendering of Chester (left) compared to the final robot (right)

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