Darting around the water while a party of swimmers gathers in the shallow end. the dolphin looks much like those that jump through hoops and do acrobatics at amusement parks. But this marine creature is a robot.
The woman who swam with the remote-controlled creature said: “When I first saw the dolphin, I thought it could be real.”
The dolphin, which cost $US26 million ($NZ39 million), was designed by Edge Innovations, a US tech firm with an animatronic and visual effects division in California.
It hopes that life-like animatronics used in Hollywood movies will one day entertain audiences in theme parks, instead of wild animals kept in captivity. Swimmers could dive with big white robotic sharks or even reptiles that filled the seas of the Jurassic period millions of years ago.
Edge Innovations founder and chief executive Walt Conti said “There are like 3000 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.”
Animatronics may bring back audiences that turned off by the use of live animals by parks, said Conti.
The inclusion of wild animals in circuses has also been banned or limited by some 20 European countries.
In collaboration with TeachKind, part of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), at Edge’s Hayward, California headquarters, the 250 kg, 2.5-metre animatronic dolphin with skin made from medical-grade silicone headlined a curriculum for colleges.
Edge has created the underwater creatures used in the Hollywood blockbusters like Free Willy, Deep Blue Sea and Anaconda.
“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,” said Roger Holzberg, creative director for Edge’s animatronic programme.