A robot revolution we can all get on-board with.

Activities that function by keeping animals captive pose endless ethical concerns. Whether it is watching whales do cute tricks in tiny tanks or going to theme parks where animals live to entertain us, more and more of the public are starting to feel uneasy when participating in activities like these.

However, these kinds of experiences allow us to learn all about these animals. How they live, how they behave, and the role they play in our world are only a few examples of what we can take away from some of these animal institutions. So, is there a way to have the best of both worlds? How can we keep these unique interactive experiences without endangering the animal kingdom? As always, technology is the answer.

Edge Innovations, a San Francisco-based company, is developing an ethical alternative to the sought-after experience of swimming with dolphins. Their special effect technicians are revamping the dream–with animatronic dolphins! The ultra-realistic robotic creatures will allow people to experience swimming with dolphins just like before, with the added benefit of not having to actually cage any live animals. They were built with the help of Melanie Langlotz, an augmented gaming expert who developed the design of the robot.

“I started talking to anyone I could get my hands on who has ever had anything to do with animatronics. I was pretty much told that ‘this is too hard’, ‘it’s really difficult’, ‘it’s a real piece of engineering artwork’ because they would be in saltwater, there’s lots of electronics in there, let alone that they need to be on display for a long time,” Langlotz told RNZ.

Well, it appears Langlotaz was never one for naysayers, as she created the seemingly impossible, with the help of many experts.

The robotic dolphin not only simulates the movements of a real dolphin, but it’s also designed to feel like one! It has a realistic skeletal and muscular structure, covered with an outer skin that resembles the one of a dolphin. Weighing 595 pounds, this robotic buddy can swim for up to 10 hours before it needs to be recharged, and is designed to last for about 10 years. 

This is not the first of its kind, though. In fact, over 20 years ago, a robotic dolphin was used as part of an interactive experience at Castaway Cay, a private island owned by Disney. Guests were able to interact with the dolphin and were surprised by how real the robot felt, considering they knew it was robotic.

Two decades later, we’ve gone form simply interacting with the quasi-dolphins to literally swimming with them.

This new robotic buddy is not completely finished yet, as it’s still being developed and tested. It’s meant to be used for attractions at a new Chinese aquarium after the government keeps introducing necessary restrictions on wildlife trade. The company does hope to sell many more of these life-like dolphins, as animal trade continues to be restricted in China, and across the world.

Now, technology is not always sugar, spice, and everything nice. It undoubtedly has its cons. But offering fun and realistic experiences while preventing animal cruelty is amazing! This certainly gives us a big wave of hope for the future of our planet.