- New Zealand company Edge Innovations developed animatronic dolphins to be used in aquariums.
- The robots are remote controlled and could be used in place of captive dolphins.
- One dolphin robot could cost $26 million.
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Aquariums could soon be home to animatronic dolphins, and visitors might not even know the difference right away.
Edge Innovations, a company in New Zealand, is combining artificial intelligence and animatronics to foster a human zoo or aquarium experience. “The marine park industry has had falling revenues for over a decade due to ethical concerns and the cost of live animals, yet the public hunger to learn about and experience these animals is still as strong as ever,” designer Roger Holzberg told The Guardian.
Visiting a marine park and seeing shows with live dolphins can be exciting and educational for people, but detrimental to the animals’ health. So, Edge Innovations enlisted American designers, including Walt Disney Company alums and Walt Conti, the designer behind Free Willy.
Robotic dolphins aren’t cheap — they will likely run about $26 million each, according to The Guardian. Edge Innovation claims that they will last longer, and they don’t have the same maintenance requirements as large ocean mammals. The animatronics will be “sustainable, safe, and profitable” according to promotional materials.
Not only will these robots provide a more humane way to have the experience of interacting with sea creatures, the company sees a future for the animatronics beyond aquariums. Edge Innovation’s website suggests hotels, cruises, malls, and museums as other potential venues, and they don’t plan to just stop with dolphins. The website mentions great white sharks and sea dragons as other options in the future.
The animatronic dolphins are shockingly realistic, and could easily be mistaken for the real thing. They weigh nearly 600 pounds each. In fact, making them indistinguishable from real dolphins was one of the conditions for investment in the project. An audience was unable to recognize that they were robotic, according to the Guardian.
The robots are remote-controlled and can last up to ten hours on a single charge. They’re being developed for a new aquarium in China, although they could eventually show up in all other kinds of settings.