By Nathan Frandino
HAYWARD, Calif. (Reuters) – Moving around the pool while a group of swimmers stay in the shallows, the dolphin looks a lot like those who jump through hoops and perform stunts in theme parks.
But this sea creature is a robot.
“When I first saw the dolphin, I thought it could be real,” said a woman who swam with the remote-controlled animal.
Edge Innovations, a US engineering company with an animatronics and special effects division in California, designed the dolphin for an educational pilot program.
The company hopes that the realistic animatronics used in Hollywood films will one day be able to entertain crowds in theme parks instead of wild animals kept in captivity. Swimmers could dive with great robotic white sharks or even reptiles that lived in the seas of the Jurassic era for millions of years.
“There are about 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity, being used to generate several billion dollars just for dolphin experiments. And then, obviously, there is an interest in loving and learning about dolphins,” said Edge founder and CEO Innovations, Walt Conti.
Animatronics can again attract the presence of the public who have lost interest in parks with live animals, said Conti.
At Edge’s headquarters in Hayward, California, the 250kg and 2.5 meter animatronic dolphin, with skin made of medical silicone, led a program for schools in partnership with TeachKind, part of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta, in the acronym in English).
“This pilot’s idea is really to create a kind of ‘Sesame Street’ underwater,” said Roger Holzberg, creative director of Edge’s animatronic program. “
“These characters have taught a generation how to feel about different types of aspects of humanity in ways never before imagined. And that is what we dream of with this project.”