Innovation - Sea change | attractionsmanagement.com
GET ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT
magazine
Yes! Send me the FREE digital edition of Attractions Management and the FREE weekly Attractions Management ezines and breaking news alerts!
Not right now, thanksclose this window
POST YOUR JOB ONLINE
Free ezine/digital edition sign up
Jobs   News   Features   Video    Products   Company profilesProfiles   Magazine   Handbook   Advertise  
Innovation
Sea change

Californian tech company Edge Innovations has unveiled an astonishingly lifelike robot dolphin. Could this mean an end to captive orcas and dolphins? Kath Hudson asks CEO, Walt Conti


Blending live puppeteering, programmed behaviour, and artificial intelligence, Edge Innovations – which has created numerous animatronic marine mammals for Hollywood blockbusters – believes its hyper real sea creatures offer the opportunity to reimagine aquaria. This technology could make captive orcas, sharks and dolphins a thing of the past, instead offering interactive experiences with robotic cetaceans. Edge CEO, Walt Conti, talks us through the challenges in creating these lifelike robots and the potential they offer.

What inspired the idea for the animatronic dolphins?
The technology which enabled the creation of the dolphin sprung from Edge Innovations’ work in the film industry in the 1990s, creating the world’s first free-swimming, full size animatronic marine mammals. Prior to that, films such as Jaws were filmed with partial sections of an animatronic shark, rigged to big platforms and filmed from specific angles, such as one side or the front.

For Free Willy, Edge created completely self-contained orcas which could be filmed from any angle. Edge went on to create many aquatic animatronics for films such as Flipper, Deep Blue Sea, The Perfect Storm and The Aquatic.

In 2000, Roger Holzberg, a VP at Disney Imagineering and currently head of experience design at Edge, came up with a concept for an attraction that would feature this technology. We collaborated on two pilot attractions with Disney using version 1.0 of the dolphin: one for Epcot and one for Castaway Cay, Disney’s cruise ship island in the Bahamas. Disney did not proceed with the attraction at the time, but the pilots were a huge hit with guests and tested off the charts, showing the potential for the concept.

This current initiative was born from the realisation that there has been building resistance over the last decade against keeping these types of marine mammals – dolphins, orcas, belugas – in captivity. In addition, there has been a convergence of key technologies which makes this vision financially and experientially viable on a large and worldwide basis. We are able to take advantage of the billions of dollars now being spent in the development of the electric vehicle battery systems and autonomous sensors and AI. These industries have driven down the cost of these key elements which are integral to our creations.

What specific features and characteristics did you want to achieve?
Our goal was pretty simple. We wanted to create real-time animatronics which were so realistic in appearance and movement that even up close people would interact with these creations as if they were alive. Once you have achieved that level of suspension of disbelief in guests then it opens up the opportunity for all sorts of engaging, entertaining and educational experiences.

How did you go about making this vision a reality?
The success of these animatronics relies on an obsessive attention to detail. We base the animals on actual skeleton information and build out from there. Having that foundation ensures animals will move in the right way.

What were the main challenges?
It’s extremely challenging to package all the technology – motors, electronics, batteries and skin systems in a way that fits inside an accurate form of a dolphin. One can’t just use off the shelf industrial components since they are typically not optimised for size. Therefore every sub-system has to be custom designed. Getting the skin to behave in a natural way is also very challenging and requires multiple rounds of prototyping and testing. Finally, achieving the right buoyancy control and stability while swimming is especially difficult. From a physics and engineering point of view one gains an incredible appreciation for mother nature when trying to recreate an animal like the dolphin. All in all the development of the V1.0 dolphin took over two years.

What has been the response from consumers?
Without exception we have observed a complete suspension of disbelief in guests, both children and adults. Even when told these are robots, they end up petting the dolphins or trying to kiss them. There is some kind of magic which transcends all mechanical and silicone elements which ends up creating a powerful engagement with guests.

Have any attractions committed to buying one yet?
We’re in advanced talks with our Chinese clients to populate three new large aquaria in China. COVID-19 slowed some of the progress this year – we were all set to implement a pilot attraction at a large aquarium in California just before the shut down, which will be restarted once attendance has recovered.

Is it viable for attractions to invest in robots rather than having live animals?
Yes. It has become more and more challenging to operate attractions based on keeping large marine mammals in captivity. Theres a growing awareness that the negative aspects of keeping these animals in these environments has affected profitability.

Yet the public hunger to learn about and experience these animals is still as strong as ever. We believe that we can provide an alternative way to create experiences which are just as powerful, entertaining and educational. From a cost standpoint, over a 10 year timeframe this technology is more cost-effective than keeping live animals.

Beyond the ethical aspect, what other advantages do the animatronics have?
Marine parks have operated under the premise that the most engaging experiences with these animals is to have them do acrobatic stunts. We can replicate those experiences, but there are so many other experiences which can be delivered, such as a toddler dream time with a dolphin, snorkelling among great white sharks, or bringing the Jurassic Seas to life.

What’s next for you?
We’re currently in development on the next generation – V3.0 – which will incorporate more AI, allowing both an ‘exhibit’ natural behaviour mode and a ‘real time’ puppeteered mode for recurring shows.

Will you replicate any other mammals?
The beauty of this technology is that you can replicate any marine mammal. It creates an opportunity to experience the wonders of the ocean world through a much broader range of the incredible animals which inhabit it.

"Marine parks have focused on acrobatics. We can replicate this, but there are many other experiences – toddler dreamtime with a dolphin; snorkelling with great white sharks" – Walt Conti

The life-like animatronic dolphins have been designed to move like the real thing, creating suspension of disbelief Credit: Edge Innovations
The technology allows the public to interact with the creatures in new ways Credit: Edge Innovations
COMPANY PROFILES
Polin Waterparks

Polin was founded in Istanbul in 1976. Polin has since grown into a leading company in the waterpa [more...]
instantprint

We’re a Yorkshire-based online printer, founded in 2009 by Adam Carnell and James Kinsella. [more...]
Triotech

Triotech was established in 1999. The company is based in Montreal, Canada and has additional offi [more...]
Sally Corporation

Our services include: Dark ride design & build; Redevelopment of existing attractions; High-quality [more...]
+ More profiles  
FEATURED SUPPLIER

Attractions industry to reunite this September at IAAPA Expo Europe in London
For the first time in more than a decade, industry leaders from across the global attractions industry will once again gather in London as part of the annual IAAPA Expo Europe, the sector’s premier international event. [more...]
VIDEO GALLERY

Red Raion TV - Testimonial: Leolandia
When you work in the Attractions Industry, there’s nothing better than seeing that dreamy look in the eyes of the people who have just tried your attraction. Find out more...
More videos:
IAAPA Expo Europe Promo – International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA)
Red Raion TV - Opening Event: FICO Eataly World – Red Raion
Red Raion Showreel 2021 – Red Raion
+ More videos  

CATALOGUE GALLERY
 

+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

03-04 Sep 2022

HEALING SUMMIT 2022 - The Healing of Everything

Pine Cliff Resort, Portugal
27-29 Sep 2022

International Congress on Thermal Tourism

Ourense, Ourense, Spain
+ More diary  
LATEST ISSUES
+ View Magazine Archive

Attractions Management

Issue 2 Volume 27


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management

Issue 1 Volume 27


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management

Issue 4 Volume 26


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management

2021 issue 3


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management News

06 Apr 2020 issue 153


View on turning pages
Download PDF
View archive
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Handbook

2019


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription
 
ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
 
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT NEWS
ATTRACTIONS HANDBOOK
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS
ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2022
Jobs    News   Products   Magazine
Innovation
Sea change

Californian tech company Edge Innovations has unveiled an astonishingly lifelike robot dolphin. Could this mean an end to captive orcas and dolphins? Kath Hudson asks CEO, Walt Conti


Blending live puppeteering, programmed behaviour, and artificial intelligence, Edge Innovations – which has created numerous animatronic marine mammals for Hollywood blockbusters – believes its hyper real sea creatures offer the opportunity to reimagine aquaria. This technology could make captive orcas, sharks and dolphins a thing of the past, instead offering interactive experiences with robotic cetaceans. Edge CEO, Walt Conti, talks us through the challenges in creating these lifelike robots and the potential they offer.

What inspired the idea for the animatronic dolphins?
The technology which enabled the creation of the dolphin sprung from Edge Innovations’ work in the film industry in the 1990s, creating the world’s first free-swimming, full size animatronic marine mammals. Prior to that, films such as Jaws were filmed with partial sections of an animatronic shark, rigged to big platforms and filmed from specific angles, such as one side or the front.

For Free Willy, Edge created completely self-contained orcas which could be filmed from any angle. Edge went on to create many aquatic animatronics for films such as Flipper, Deep Blue Sea, The Perfect Storm and The Aquatic.

In 2000, Roger Holzberg, a VP at Disney Imagineering and currently head of experience design at Edge, came up with a concept for an attraction that would feature this technology. We collaborated on two pilot attractions with Disney using version 1.0 of the dolphin: one for Epcot and one for Castaway Cay, Disney’s cruise ship island in the Bahamas. Disney did not proceed with the attraction at the time, but the pilots were a huge hit with guests and tested off the charts, showing the potential for the concept.

This current initiative was born from the realisation that there has been building resistance over the last decade against keeping these types of marine mammals – dolphins, orcas, belugas – in captivity. In addition, there has been a convergence of key technologies which makes this vision financially and experientially viable on a large and worldwide basis. We are able to take advantage of the billions of dollars now being spent in the development of the electric vehicle battery systems and autonomous sensors and AI. These industries have driven down the cost of these key elements which are integral to our creations.

What specific features and characteristics did you want to achieve?
Our goal was pretty simple. We wanted to create real-time animatronics which were so realistic in appearance and movement that even up close people would interact with these creations as if they were alive. Once you have achieved that level of suspension of disbelief in guests then it opens up the opportunity for all sorts of engaging, entertaining and educational experiences.

How did you go about making this vision a reality?
The success of these animatronics relies on an obsessive attention to detail. We base the animals on actual skeleton information and build out from there. Having that foundation ensures animals will move in the right way.

What were the main challenges?
It’s extremely challenging to package all the technology – motors, electronics, batteries and skin systems in a way that fits inside an accurate form of a dolphin. One can’t just use off the shelf industrial components since they are typically not optimised for size. Therefore every sub-system has to be custom designed. Getting the skin to behave in a natural way is also very challenging and requires multiple rounds of prototyping and testing. Finally, achieving the right buoyancy control and stability while swimming is especially difficult. From a physics and engineering point of view one gains an incredible appreciation for mother nature when trying to recreate an animal like the dolphin. All in all the development of the V1.0 dolphin took over two years.

What has been the response from consumers?
Without exception we have observed a complete suspension of disbelief in guests, both children and adults. Even when told these are robots, they end up petting the dolphins or trying to kiss them. There is some kind of magic which transcends all mechanical and silicone elements which ends up creating a powerful engagement with guests.

Have any attractions committed to buying one yet?
We’re in advanced talks with our Chinese clients to populate three new large aquaria in China. COVID-19 slowed some of the progress this year – we were all set to implement a pilot attraction at a large aquarium in California just before the shut down, which will be restarted once attendance has recovered.

Is it viable for attractions to invest in robots rather than having live animals?
Yes. It has become more and more challenging to operate attractions based on keeping large marine mammals in captivity. Theres a growing awareness that the negative aspects of keeping these animals in these environments has affected profitability.

Yet the public hunger to learn about and experience these animals is still as strong as ever. We believe that we can provide an alternative way to create experiences which are just as powerful, entertaining and educational. From a cost standpoint, over a 10 year timeframe this technology is more cost-effective than keeping live animals.

Beyond the ethical aspect, what other advantages do the animatronics have?
Marine parks have operated under the premise that the most engaging experiences with these animals is to have them do acrobatic stunts. We can replicate those experiences, but there are so many other experiences which can be delivered, such as a toddler dream time with a dolphin, snorkelling among great white sharks, or bringing the Jurassic Seas to life.

What’s next for you?
We’re currently in development on the next generation – V3.0 – which will incorporate more AI, allowing both an ‘exhibit’ natural behaviour mode and a ‘real time’ puppeteered mode for recurring shows.

Will you replicate any other mammals?
The beauty of this technology is that you can replicate any marine mammal. It creates an opportunity to experience the wonders of the ocean world through a much broader range of the incredible animals which inhabit it.

"Marine parks have focused on acrobatics. We can replicate this, but there are many other experiences – toddler dreamtime with a dolphin; snorkelling with great white sharks" – Walt Conti

The life-like animatronic dolphins have been designed to move like the real thing, creating suspension of disbelief Credit: Edge Innovations
The technology allows the public to interact with the creatures in new ways Credit: Edge Innovations
LATEST NEWS
Jake McCoy joins Ted leadership team as director of operations
The Experience Department (Ted) has expanded its European-based leadership team, appointing Jake McCoy to the new position of director of operations.
Fabland Valley Resort launces new walkthrough attraction designed by Triotech
Fabland Valley Resort in Xiangyang in the Province of Hubei, China has opened its new "double walkthrough" attraction.
Aussie World launches Dingo Racer coaster
The Aussie World theme park on Australia’s Sunshine Coast has launched its first rollercoaster.
Wake The Tiger - dubbed the first-ever 'amazement park' - opens in Bristol, UK
Wake The Tiger - described as the world's first 'amazement park' - has opened its doors to the public in Bristol, UK.
Turkish resort opens first Rift waterslide, designed by Polin
The Titanic Deluxe Golf Belek resort in Antalya, Turkey, has launched the world’s first Rift waterslide.
Avengers Campus opens at Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris has hosted a soft opening of its new Avengers Campus Paris, ahead of its opening to the public on 20 July.
Industry mourns death of Meow Wolf co-founder, Matt King
Meow Wolf, the immersive arts and entertainment company, has announced the death of its co– founder, Matt King.
FlowRider rebrands to reflect 'past and future'
FlowRider, the stationary wave machine pioneer, has undergone a rebrand for the first time since its launch in 1991.
David Adjaye and Ralph Appelbaum selected for £57m International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum project
Adjaye Associates and Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) have been named as the preferred bidders to lead the design of a £57m major redevelopment of the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum in Liverpool, UK.
Liseberg's Grand Curiosa Hotel to open in 2023
Liseberg theme park in Sweden has confirmed the opening date for its new Grand Curiosa hotel.
London's Harry Potter studio tour to open Professor Sprout’s Greenhouse
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London will launch a new area on 1 July, further expanding the popular Harry Potter-themed visitor attraction in Leavesden.
Juneteenth Museum by Bjarke Ingels Group has been designed to inspire spiritual uplift
Detailed plans have been revealed for the National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, US.
+ More news   
 
COMPANY PROFILES
Polin Waterparks

Polin was founded in Istanbul in 1976. Polin has since grown into a leading company in the waterpa [more...]
instantprint

We’re a Yorkshire-based online printer, founded in 2009 by Adam Carnell and James Kinsella. [more...]
Triotech

Triotech was established in 1999. The company is based in Montreal, Canada and has additional offi [more...]
Sally Corporation

Our services include: Dark ride design & build; Redevelopment of existing attractions; High-quality [more...]
+ More profiles  
FEATURED SUPPLIER

Attractions industry to reunite this September at IAAPA Expo Europe in London
For the first time in more than a decade, industry leaders from across the global attractions industry will once again gather in London as part of the annual IAAPA Expo Europe, the sector’s premier international event. [more...]
VIDEO GALLERY

Red Raion TV - Testimonial: Leolandia
When you work in the Attractions Industry, there’s nothing better than seeing that dreamy look in the eyes of the people who have just tried your attraction. Find out more...
More videos:
IAAPA Expo Europe Promo – International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA)
Red Raion TV - Opening Event: FICO Eataly World – Red Raion
Red Raion Showreel 2021 – Red Raion
+ More videos  

CATALOGUE GALLERY
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

03-04 Sep 2022

HEALING SUMMIT 2022 - The Healing of Everything

Pine Cliff Resort, Portugal
27-29 Sep 2022

International Congress on Thermal Tourism

Ourense, Ourense, Spain
+ More diary  
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2022

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT NEWS
ATTRACTIONS HANDBOOK
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS