Screenshot: Big research

RI's Chris Atkeson and friend

If you’re one of the millions of people who have enjoyed Disney’s newest animated feature, “Big Hero 6,” you also learned a little something about soft robotics.

And it isn’t just fantasy—the creators of the inflatable robot Baymax, a pivotal character in the movie, were inspired by work they saw while visiting CMU’s Robotics Institute several years ago.

That’s when “Big Hero 6” co-director Don Hall saw a robot arm made out of balloons. He says he immediately realized that making Baymax inflatable “would be our ticket to putting a robot on the screen we had never seen before.”

In the public’s imagination, robots are almost universally made of hard, unyielding metal. But Chris Atkeson, a robotics professor at CMU (shown here with a toy Baymax), says mobile robots made from soft materials—including fabric and lightweight plastics—offer advantages over metal robots, including greater safety when operating near people.

The inflatable arm that proved so inspirational to Hall was developed in Atkeson’s lab by then-student Siddharth Sanan (CS’10,’13), now a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard.

Sanan says inflatable robots could be wearable or exceptionally portable—they might be stowed in a backpack, or launched into space as a small package.

“The movie is a tremendous win for soft robotics,” Atkeson says. “I think this movie will be inspirational for a lot of people.”

You can learn more about the science behind Baymax at or visit

—Byron Spice

For More Information: 

The Link magazine | 412-268-8721 |