An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Rensselaer is collaborating with Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, part of the theme park design and development arm of the Walt Disney Company. Together, they are exploring how the cognitive computing technology being developed at Rensselaer can help enhance the experience of visitors to Disney theme parks, cruise ships, and other venues.

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development and Rensselaer researchers are exploring a range of cognitive computing technologies. These include information extraction techniques to help computers better understand words written or spoken by a human, as well as agent-based techniques for investigating how computers and humans can engage in more natural conversations.

“Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Inc. is part of the creative force behind the iconic Disney attractions and experiences and is on the forefront of natural interactive character-based experience technologies. Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Inc. has a rich history of creating, developing, and bringing to life groundbreaking technologies in the field of Audio-Animatronics® Figures. Rensselaer is a world-class research university and a leading force in computational science and engineering, including in the emerging field of cognitive computing. The possibilities of what we can accomplish together are endless,” said Jonathan Dordick, vice president for research at Rensselaer.

“Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Inc. is excited to partner with Rensselaer, a recognized leader in knowledge extraction and natural language understanding. We believe Rensselaer’s world-class text and language processing tools, in conjunction with Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Inc.’s cutting-edge autonomous character platforms, will enable a new class of Guest/character experiences,” said Jonathan Snoddy, R&D Studio Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development.

Leading the project for Rensselaer is James Hendler, Tetherless World Senior Constellation Professor and director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA). An expert in web science, big data, and artificial intelligence, Hendler said the collaboration with Disney is an important step forward for all of the data-related research taking place as part of the Rensselaer IDEA. Rensselaer faculty members Mei Si, assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science, and Heng Ji, the Edward P. Hamilton Development Chair and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, will collaborate with Hendler on the project.

“Unstructured data, that is the information inherent in written texts and spoken dialogue, is an increasingly important part of the big data landscape,” Hendler said. “Our goal in this project is to work with Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Inc. to transform the leading-edge tools and techniques into fully developed applications that will help make the Disney experience even more enjoyable for people and families around the world. We look forward to an incredible collaboration with Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Inc.”