November 12, 2020By Lance Baily

$25M Dolphin Simulator Demonstrates Advances in High-Fidelity Realism

Could a $25 million dollar Dolphin Simulator be so real that you couldn’t tell the difference between it and the real thing? Digital Trends recently shared how a Robo-Dolphin from Edge Innovations has created an extremely realistic marine animal simulator which is being used for education and training purposes. Certainly manikins we are working with now in healthcare simulation, like those from CAE Healthcare, are the cutting edge of human patient simulator technologies — but what could we learn from looking at realistic simulators from other industries?

This new simulator is a hyper-realistic robo-dolphin that is paving the way for animatronic aquariums — but at a price tag of $25 million dollars. Featured on, the high-fidelity dolphin simulation appears so realistic that viewers think it is an actual, living dolphin. Interestingly, this robotic mammal is not the first of the company’s water-dwelling productions!

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Edge Innovations is the engineering company that has brought into the real world simulations that are so compellingly lifelike as to be indistinguishable from the real thing, With a background in Hollywood film and computer graphics, Edge Innovations Creative Director Roger Holzberg worked with CEO Walk Conti to provide motion picture animatronics for roughly 30 years. Their work was featured in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Free Willy,” “Deep Blue Sea,” “The Perfect Storm” and “Anaconda.” In these films, Edge Innovations provided animatronic whales, sharks, swordfish, and, of course, an anaconda.

After 30 years in the animatronics space, Edge Innovations decided to shift gears to focus more on the theme-park market, according to the Digital Trends article. To provide a truly lifelike experience, the company’s team developed the products in a way that prioritized freedom of movement. This way, theme park figures can run through programmed motions on a regular basis without interruption. In the 1990s this technology enabled Edge Innovations to build an early animatronic dolphin capable of swimming in water and that could be controlled by two human operators with four joysticks.

Demonstrating the high level of realism this early model displayed, Holzberg is quoted sharing the story of a woman in the audience who ran out of the pavilion, through an emergency exit, setting off an alarm, and used her cell phone to call the Orlando (Florida) police and the Orlando Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). (She told them) that Disney had put a real dolphin in the Living Seas Pavilion, that they had bolted a camera to its head, run a wire to it, put it in a costume and that someone needed to come down there now and arrest people for cruelty to this animal.

Moving toward the modern day, Digital Trends reports that Hozberg received a call in 2019 from a New Zealand theme park producer working to develop three new oceanariums in China. The producer had allegedly seen footage of the 1990’s robo-dolphin and inquired about the possibility of incorporating augmented reality into another dolphin prototype for the new parks. Weighing the options and benefits of incorporating AI technology into theme parks across the world, he decided the idea was possible and largely beneficial to marine life.

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“I started to think about it,” he said. “I had this deep conversation with my wife, asking what it would mean if we built animatronic versions of three different species for three large aquariums in China. My wife said: ‘Well, you’ ll have kept perhaps 100 large animals from being taken out of the wild and put in an aquarium. That means you’ve changed the history of those species.'” Holzberg said..

Bringing his idea to life, he was able to create a robo-dolphin with augmented reality in simulation that weighs 550 pounds, is 8.5-feet long, and has realistic skin made of medical-grade silicone. The dolphin simulator is capable of swimming for eight-to-10 hours on a single charge and displays shockingly accurate dolphin-like behaviors.This includes an inherent curiosity and the need to surface to breathe often. The robo-dolphin is further equipped with two modes: an exhibition mode in which the simulator swims around exploring the environment, and an education mode, where the product is controlled by an animator with a joystick.

Despite costing millions to acquire this technology, and the robot dolphins hitting a bump in the tank during the COVID-19 pandemic, these augmented reality simulators have the ability to alter the marine park industry moving forward. By opting to employ dolphin simulators, Edge Innovations is employing a more humane alternative to showcasing living creatures. The robots are also safer for visitors to interact with and even swim with, demonstrating the power of simulation. The dolphin simulator serves as an example that every year, technological improvements help increase realism, creating more opportunities for high-fidelity simulation to create experiences that impact real life.

While human patient simulators and clinical simulation manikins are not used for entertainment purposes, the role they play in the healthcare space is unmatchable. By taking the place of a live patient, medical simulators present opportunities for training and education that minimize patient risk while optimizing patient safety. As healthcare simulation technologies continue to advance as did the technology that made the robo-dolphins possible, high-fidelity simulation scenarios will become even better representations of practices, procedures, and treatments.

Learn More About Edge Innovations

Edge Innovations specializes in the design, development, and production of complex, highly integrated technology-based systems. The San Francisco-based engineering company that specializes in animatronics seamlessly integrates across multiple disciplines and delivers one-of-a-kind projects on extremely short deadlines.

Working with many of the world’s top visionaries, including James Cameron, Steve Wynn, and Frank Gehry, the Edge Innovations team has delivered some of the world’s most innovative technical and artistic creations. To date, Edge Innovations has successfully completed nearly 100 projects within the entertainment, subsea, and tech industries.

Read the Full Digital Trends Article Here!

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