Dolphin robots can replace real animals in theme parks

Dolphin robots can replace real animals in theme parks
Dolphin robots can replace real animals in theme parks

Special effects specialists from Edge Innovations presented a robot dolphin that is almost indistinguishable from the real one. The model is already undergoing tests in one of the Chinese aquariums.

Dolphin Robot Model / © Edge Innovations

The team created the project with former creative staff at Walt Disney Imagineering. The robot weighs 270 kilograms and holds a charge for 10 hours. According to the developers, it can work in seawater for 10 years, has a realistic skeletal and muscle structure, and accurately mimics the movements of living dolphins. Moreover, his body weight is distributed in the same way as a real animal.

The operator controls the robot: he sends commands to which the machine responds in real time. To operate autonomously, it lacks cameras and motion sensors that simulate vision and artificial intelligence.

The technology was ordered by the management of a new Chinese dolphinarium, which cannot import real animals due to a government ban: China has imposed strict restrictions on the transport of wild animals after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Edge Innovations has already handed over the model to the customer and is currently undergoing tests. The project has been so successful that the company plans to continue manufacturing robots and hopes to sell 150 copies within three years.

The development costs about $ 40-60 million, which, according to the creators, is cheaper than keeping a live dolphin. Li Wang, an employee at Edge Innovation, explained that maintaining a traditional aquarium and caring for live dolphins for 10 years is three to four times more expensive than a robot. In addition, it does not require training and does not pose any risk to humans.

The team idea is not new. The first robot dolphin, the Dolphin Robotic Unit, or DRU, appeared over 20 years ago at the EPCOT theme park at Walt Disney World Recreation Center. He could cage around objects and interact with divers and animals.

"The goal of the project is to rethink the entertainment, educational and business potential of the marine livestock industry," the authors of the development say. They are confident that the robot will help change attitudes towards the marine entertainment industry, stop the use of live dolphins in shows and aquariums and simplify the work of companies in this area. Capturing, transporting and breeding marine animals has been limited in recent years, and theme parks cannot provide suitable conditions for dolphins.

The project has already attracted the attention of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an American animal rights organization. Roger Holtzberg and Walt Conti, CEOs of Edge Innovations, were honored with the Innovator for Animals Award. “These forward-thinking designers have thrown a lifeline for the sensitive dolphins that are exploited on dolphin cruises and legacy marine parks,” said PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman.

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