Dolphins, killer whales and other intelligent sea mammals are major attractions at Sea World and other marine parks. But there’s increasing pressure to release the captive animals back into the wild where they belong.
The marine park industry’s days could be numbered – but a possible solution to keep the multi-million dollar businesses going has come from San Francisco-based animatronics specialists Edge Innovations.
They are building dolphins, sea dragons and even great white sharks powered by artificial intelligence that look and – up to a point – behave exactly like the real thing.
The only difference is these ones won't eat you.
“Safe, up close, personal engagement with the creatures of our world ocean is finally possible,” the company promises.
“For those of us that care about marine animal preservation, this is a dream come true,” says Edge Innovations designer Roger Holzberg, who previously created animatronic experiences for the Walt Disney company.
The company says its real-time animatronics technology :provides a way to reinvent the marine entertainment industry with a sustainable, safe, and profitable future.”
Because they don’t require 24/7 care, and can be switched off at night, Edge’s “Westworld” technology can be used in a huge variety of locations, such as on cruise ships and in shopping malls, and and not just in huge, costly and outmoded sea life parks.
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The company has probably already fooled you with one of their ultra-realistic prop animals. They’ve made sharks and killer whales for movies such as Deep Blue Sea and the Free Willy series, as well as Discovery’s hugely popular Shark Week programmes.
The company’s robotic dolphin – over eight feet long and weighing some 550lbs – packs AI-powered controls beneath its realistic silicone skin. It automatically maintains its own buoyancy and surfaces regularly to “breathe” just like the real thing.
A joystick controller enables aquarium staff to command the cybernetic cetacean to perform a huge variety of natural-looking actions.
Swimmers can safely get in the water and interact with the dolphins or even the Great White, confident that no-one’s going to accidentally end up eaten.
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