Animatronic robot could replace dolphins in Chinese aquariums

Aquariums in China could turn to robotic, animatronic dolphins to replace the live creatures after extensive bans on the wildlife trade.

In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, China has implemented strict limitations on the import and export of wild animals.

So a robotic Flipper has been created by San Francisco-based Edge Innovations and can supposedly last over a decade in salt water without any maintenance.

It needs to be remotely operated by a person and can swim for up to 10 hours on a single charge of its battery.

Edge Innovations modelled the robot on a bottlenose dolphin and judging from footage of it in a pool, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and a real one.

According to a report from Gizmodo, the company mimicked the skeletal structure of a real dolphin and used internal weights to match its swimming movements.

Edge is currently pitching the robo-dolphin to various Chinese theme parks and aquariums and reckons it could sell up to 150 of them over the next three years. When you factor in that each one costs between $40-$60 million dollars, that’s a significant amount of cash.

But the company thinks that, when compared with upkeep and medical costs for live animals, the animatronic ones could pay for themselves in just a few years.

‘In terms of a 10-year business operating period and a two million annual visitor capacity, the overall investment and maintenance costs for a decent animatronics entertainment portfolio only accounts for about one quarter or no more than one-third of what a traditional aquarium spends,’ Edge Innovation’s Li Wang told the South China Morning Post.

Alongside the accurate skeleton is a realistic skin coating so anyone swimming alongside and touching the robot wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t real.

And just for that added bit of realism, the robot’s teeth have been stained slightly yellow and it can squeak and move its head around to mimic gestures from a real bottlenose dolphin.

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