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Scientists Hope To Use Robot Dolphins To Replace Captive Animals In Movies And Theme Parks

Scientists Hope To Use Robot Dolphins To Replace Captive Animals In Movies And Theme Parks

A US engineering company has designed a robotic dolphin that is so lifelike that scientists believe it could replace captive animals at theme parks one day. They can dart around pools, jump through hoops and perform tricks, exactly like the real things.

This is the sort of progression we like to hear about.

Edge Innovations have created the robotic dolphin (Credit: Edge Innovations)
Edge Innovations have created the robotic dolphin (Credit: Edge Innovations)

The robotic dolphins have even been placed in a pool with a group of swimmers, with one woman saying: "When I first saw the dolphin, I thought it could be real," said a woman who swam with the remote-controlled creature.

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The company behind the dolphin is Edge Innovations - a US engineering company with an animatronic and special effects division in California, who will be selling their masterpiece for between $3 million to $5 million. They also made the aquatic creatures used in Hollywood blockbusters Free Willy, Deep Blue Sea and Anaconda.

The advent of robotic dolphins will come as very welcome news to animal lovers the world over (Credit: Edge Innovations)
The advent of robotic dolphins will come as very welcome news to animal lovers the world over (Credit: Edge Innovations)

"There are like 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity being used to generate several billions of dollars just for dolphin experiences. And so there's obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins," said Edge Innovations founder and CEO Walt Conti.

"And so we want to use that appetite and offer kind of different ways to fall in love with the dolphin."

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The remote-controlled creatures are extremely realistic (Credit: Edge Innovations)
The remote-controlled creatures are extremely realistic (Credit: Edge Innovations)

Animatronics may bring back audiences turned off by parks using live animals, said Conti.

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At Edge's Hayward, California headquarters, its 550-pound (250-kg), 8-and-a-half-foot (2.5-meter) animatronic dolphin with skin made from medical-grade silicone headlined a program for schools in partnership with TeachKind, part of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA US is sending an Innovator for Animals Award to Roger Holzberg and Walt Conti of Edge Innovations (Credit: PETA)
PETA US is sending an Innovator for Animals Award to Roger Holzberg and Walt Conti of Edge Innovations (Credit: PETA)
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"The idea of this pilot is really to create a kind of "Sesame Street" under water," said Roger Holzberg, creative director for Edge's animatronic program.

"Those characters taught a generation how to feel about different kinds of aspects of humankind in ways that had never been imagined before. And that's what we dream of with this project."

In fact, the dolphins are so realistic that, thanks to their skin coating, anyone swimming alongside and touching the robot wouldn't be able to tell it wasn't real. Their teeth have been slightly yellowed, too - no detail has been missed!

More than 20 European countries have banned the use of wild animals in travelling circuses (Credit: Pikrepo)
More than 20 European countries have banned the use of wild animals in travelling circuses (Credit: Pikrepo)
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Edge is currently pitching the robo-dolphin to various Chinese theme parks and and reckons it could sell up to 150 of them over the next three years.

France was the most recent country to announce it will gradually ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses as part of sweeping new animal welfare measures, joining more than 20 other European countries who have already made the commitment.

"In terms of a 10-year business operating period and a two million annual visitor capacity, the overall investment and maintenance costs for a decent animatronics entertainment portfolio only accounts for about one quarter or no more than one-third of what a traditional aquarium spends," Edge Innovation's Li Wang told the South China Morning Post.

This is definitely a step in the right direction.

Featured Image Credit: Edge Innovations

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Naomi Chadderton (FL)

Naomi is a freelance journalist working for Tyla. After graduating from The University of Nottingham, Naomi moved out to Dubai where she worked for Grazia Middle East and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. She is now back home and enjoying the London life.