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‘For those of us that care about marine animal preservation, this is a dream come true.’
PETA US called Roger Holzberg and Walt Conti of Edge Innovations ‘visionary designers’ for creating a first of its kind animatronic dolphin and honoured them with an Innovator for Animals Award.
The two animatronics experts from San Francisco were roped in after New Zealand augmented reality gaming expert Melanie Langlotz, and her business partner Li Wang were asked to design an aquarium in China with live dolphins and whales.Image: PETA
However uncomfortable with the idea of using live animals, they decided to use robotic dolphins instead and sought Holzherg and Conti’s expertise.
‘Dream come true’
The duo, who helped make robotic animals for movies such as Star Trek and Jurassic World, designed the 270 kg prototype. Holzberg, former vice president and creative director for Disney, said the robot has a battery life for 10 hours and can operate in saltwater for up to 10 years.
“This dolphin weighs, feels, and has been engineered to simulate everything from the skeletal structure, to the muscular interaction with that skeletal structure, to the fat bladders and weight deposits on a real adolescent bottlenose dolphin,” Holzberg explained.
According to Holzberg: “For those of us that care about marine animal preservation, this is a dream come true.”
RNZ reported Holzberg stating the innovation has a potential way beyond a themed aquarium and could be even used as a therapeutic measure for behavioural disorders too after observing the reaction of an autistic child, who had volunteered to swim with the prototype as part of a trial run.
“This type of technology doesn’t just have to live in a themed aquarium. If I were to imagine … a sequel to Whale Rider, where we could go into the ocean, this technology would serve that incredibly well. This technology could also serve television, other kinds of storytelling media very well, and other sort of educational means,” Holzberg said.
PETA applauded the innovators for providing a new way to experience wildlife without exploiting animals and sparing dolphins a lifetime of suffering in captivity.
It added citing a customer survey by Virgin Holidays that 92% of respondents would “prefer to see animals in their natural habitat” rather than in captivity.
“These visionary designers have thrown a lifeline to sensitive dolphins who are exploited in ‘swim with dolphins’ encounters and archaic marine parks,” said PETA Director of International Programmes Mimi Bekhechi in a press release.
“They’re making waves with this high-tech invention that lets people get up close to dolphins without harming them.”
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