Amusement parks are now using technology to replace the animals in their shows, in particular thanks to larger-than-life robotic dolphins. Edge Innovations, an American company producing “fake critters” for Hollywood, is entering this market, at a time when bans on the use of animals in shows are increasing across the world.
Roger Holzberg, former creative director at Disney, and Walt Conti, special effects specialist (he was the one who created Anaconda and Willy in “Save Willy”), came together to develop a robotic dolphin perfectly imitating the marine mammal, star of aquatic park pools. Hyperrealistic, he is able to reproduce the acrobatic jumps, the cries and the attitudes of a real dolphin. The creators were inspired by the animal-robots they made for films to design an “animatronic”, an electronic animal, now able to interact with adults but especially children. A difficult challenge for a demanding public who knows the dolphin and his prowess. The result is stunning !
It is in China that the robot dolphin made its first lengths. After the ban on the trafficking of wild animals and animals in captivity, Chinese parks had to reinvent themselves. Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recently awarded Edge Innovations for its invention which contributes to the protection of this species.
The robot dolphin, controlled by artificial intelligence, has 10 hours of autonomy
So it was time to offer his robot dolphin. It has ten hours of autonomy controlled by artificial intelligence thanks to an implanted computer. The robot jumps, screams, swims and spins like a real dolphin. A metallic structure serves as a skeleton and controls the robot’s movements to reproduce the ripples of the cetacean and the muscle mass of its body. The details of the teeth, eyes and muzzle are those of the animal robots used in the films, modeled precisely on the photographic models taken in Ultra HD. Interactions with humans are piloted remotely like a drone and are the result of pre-programmed commands by the designers, anxious to keep control in the face of an audience that is sometimes indomitable …
Mélanie Langlotz, head of a Dutch aquarium company, had the idea of offering a Chinese amusement park the solution of animal robots.
“It’s a winning bet for all species”
What performances can your robotic dolphins achieve?
Roger Holzberg. Absolutely all the tricks their living counterparts can do. Except that, in an aquatic show, some are trained to perform specific acrobatics or have particular attitudes that have been taught to them. For example, a robotic dolphin that jumps up to 6 meters in the air will not be the same one that pushes its trainer into the water. You will need a robot animal for each turn.
Is awareness of animal suffering going to upset animal parks?
For water parks, that’s for sure! Their income has plummeted for ten years because of public concerns about the living conditions of animals and also because the cost of maintaining live animals is very high. Yet the public is eager to learn more about these beasts and to be able to interact with them. We believe that it is time to reinvent the water park market and that its approach can be more human and more profitable at the same time: a win-win bet for all species in the end.
Can you create animatronics for all species? Lions, tigers, monkeys?
Yes it is possible but for the moment we prefer to focus on marine animals. For our Chinese customers and their large number of aquariums, the robot dolphin will be the smallest of their animatronics. Imagine what kind of attraction we can create when we make schools of great white sharks or even a “Jurassic Fish” or a dragon that will come out of the water spitting flames! Animatronics will be able to do whatever the human imagination allows.