Anybody who’s already having trouble parsing out reality may want to buckle up. Because animatronics are apparently ready to supplant real animals. At the very least, this robot dolphin from Edge Innovations is. That’s not hyperbole considering the fact that it looks indistinguishable from a real dolphin. And a new study shows people are ready to accept robot attractions instead of captive dolphins. Its creators are also involved in some kind of Westworld-esque aqua theme park in China, and say they’re working on robot versions of several other ocean animals.

The Science Behind Animatronic Animals Like the Robo-Dolphin

A recent study found that the majority of people would initially rather have an experience with a live dolphin. But once those people are educated about the downsides of keeping these intelligent creatures in captivity, the majority of them changed their mind. Getting those selfies with a unique robotic duplicate is better than posing with an animal you know is unhappy, right? The peer-reviewed Journal of Ecotourism published the results, which we learned about from Hakai Magazine. Whether this futuristic experience will catch on and become the norm depends on many more questions that still need answers.

This ultra-realistic animatronic dolphin may replace real ones at theme parks.

Geo AR Games 

The Robo-Dolphin Technology

Gizmodo picked up on the robo-dolphin shown in the video above, which is a prototype of the animatronics that will eventually populate the “large, multi-animal project” currently underway in China. And while details of the upcoming attraction are scarce Edge notes that, if it’s successful, it may “provide a way to reinvent the marine entertainment industry with a sustainable, safe, and profitable future.”

Along with Edge, the New Zealand-based augmented reality company, Geo AR Games also worked on the project. The video was posted by Geo, with the company noting that this dolphin stands as proof “that realistic-looking animatronic dolphins, whales, sharks or marine dinosaurs… can be developed and will look so realistic that they can fool the audience.”

Geo AR Games 

In regards to the dolphin itself, there are, unfortunately, few stats available. Geo does say in the video’s description, however, that animatronics like this one can run for 10 hours without charging. They even have a lifespan of 10 years. Plus, the dolphin is clearly ultra-realistic in terms of appearance. Everything from its skin to its teeth to its eyes look like the real deal. It even captures the aquatic mammal’s graceful, happy movements.

Geo AR Games 

Moving forward, it seems that Edge and Geo are going to continue to work on other aquatic creatures, including belugas, orcas, and even great white sharks. “Animatronics,” Geo says, “can work all day long, don’t need food, and don’t mind taking endless selfies with visitors.” The company adds that it believes this approach to themed entertainment represents a sustainable, and humane, future for theme parks.

Originally published on June 23, 2020

Feature image: Geo AR Games