Heard of the robotic dog that can do things like help out at construction sites and keep people from standing too close together (Hi, Spot, the social distancing officer!)? Robots have come a long way from being simple household helpers like the self-running vacuum cleaner (we’re talking about you, Roomba!). Over the last five years, robots have become more and more like real living and breathing human or animal counterparts. From playing chess, to helping the elderly at home, to volunteering at big sporting events (check out the story about the robot volunteers that were slated to help out at the Tokyo Olympics), to delivering packages, robots are becoming our right-hand man-robots. But up to this point, the look of a robot has been distinctly that of a—well—robot. When you compare a real dog with a robotic one, there’s no questioning which is which. But what if you couldn’t tell the difference? What if robot dogs were fluffy, slobbery furballs just like real dogs? This may seem like a far-fetched idea, but it’s not!
A company based out of New Zealand is working to build animatronic dolphins that look, feel, act, and swim just like real dolphins! Whether you think the concept is awesome or a little odd, it’s happening. Why? Over the years, more and more people have questioned the treatment of marine life living in parks such as SeaWorld. Animal rights activists claim that animal abuse in these parks has caused many whales, dolphins, and other sea life to die prematurely. But people are still fascinated with these animals and want a way to see and interact with them. In China, for example, there were plans to build at least thirty aquariums before the pandemic stalled construction.
So what can an animatronic dolphin do that a real one can’t? In other words, why would someone purchase one of these dolphins for their aquarium? First, let’s talk about animal rights. Animatronic dolphins would replace real dolphins that have been forced to live in captivity. Second, there’s cost. Yes, it costs over $22 million to purchase one of these things, but in the long run, it might just be less costly to maintain than a real dolphin—you don’t have to feed an animatronic dolphin after all! What’s more, animatronic dolphins can do exactly what the person controlling it wants it to do. How happy would a young visitor be when she sees a dolphin “waving” at her when she smiles at it? Animatronic dolphins are still being perfected but when a prototype of the creature was tested on unsuspecting volunteers, no one could tell whether they were swimming with a real or animatronic dolphin. Would you be able to tell the difference?