The spinning top is one of the oldest and seemingly simplest toys devised in human history, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it.
Disney Research has come up with a new algorithm that allows it to design a stable spinning toy out of almost any shape. Researchers found that shapes that fail to maintain a balanced spin as a solid object could be analyzed before construction to optimize its center of mass for rotational stability — that is to say, the algorithm tweaked 3D meshes to create hollow, interior spaces that keep it balanced. Using this method, the team was able to 3D print tops in the shapes of teapots, asymmetrical ellipsoids and breakdancing armadillo without fear of them toppling over.
While the idea of novelty spinning tops is fun on its own, the research may be used for more practical applications. Researchers found that the algorithm could also be used to create well balanced static objects with lower centers of gravity than solid counterparts. In the future, the technology could be used to design more stable mechanical structures, robots or animatronics. And if it doesn’t? Well, at least Disneyland will have better spinning souvenirs.