Robots that look like marine animals are used to spy on dolphins for films and behaviour




Collection of animatronic sharks


A collection of shark and other marine animatronic artworks, typically used by film studios and television documentary makers.



The sea is full of extraordinary creatures – and now because of man's lust for knowledge we have added to the wonderful variety by including lifelike robots. Some marine robots are used to film the private lives of dolphins for TV, others to shock us with horror stories about shark attacks. But don't forget that shark numbers are declining due to human intervention. 


The greatest threat to shark numbers are climate change, tourism, pollution from oil spills, and the ingestion of micro-plastics. That is something for the Global Ocean Commission to ponder. Here we are looking at small submersible models that imitate the actions of sharks. They are usually 

radio-controlled and can be equipped with HD cameras to capture footage of unsuspecting marine mammals, or simply to allow the operators to see where their vehicle is going. Deep diving mini-submarines are used to survey the oceans, used by such organizations as the National Environment Research Council (NERC) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC).


One reason that sharks are so popular as the subject is that the large fish is so beautifully streamlined and has a fearsome reputation. Film makers flock to the subject for these reasons, made famous by the blockbuster movie, Jaws, and followed up with less successful films such as The Deep Blue Sea that relied on computer graphics - and that is where things can start to go wrong - in relying on unbelievable comic hero type animation, rather than a good story. The Deep Blue Sea is more of a science fiction movie where sharks become more intelligent. Despite lacking the classic quality and feel of Jaws, it is an entertaining movie. Sharks are of course cunning hunters already.







Animatronics refers to the use of robotic devices to emulate a human or an animal, or bring lifelike characteristics to an otherwise inanimate object. Animatronic creations include animals (including dinosaurs), plants and even mythical creatures. A robot designed to be a convincing imitation of a human is more specifically labeled as an android. Modern animatronics have found widespread applications in movie special effects and theme parks and have, since their inception, been primarily used as a spectacle of amusement.

Animatronics is a multi-disciplinary field which integrates anatomy, robots, mechatronics, and puppetry resulting in lifelike animation. Animatronic figures are often powered by pneumatics, hydraulics, or by electrical means, and can be implemented using both computer control and human control, including teleoperation. Motion actuators are often used to imitate muscle movements and create realistic motions in limbs. Figures are covered with body shells and flexible skins made of hard and soft plastic materials, and finished with details like colors, hair and feathers and other components to make the figure more realistic.







An animatronics character is built around an internal supporting frame, usually made of steel. Attached to these "bones" are the "muscles" which can be manufactured using elastic netting composed of styrene beads. The frame provides the support for the electronics and mechanical components, as well as providing the shape for the outer skin.

The "skin" of the figure is most often made of foam rubber, silicone or urethane poured into moulds and allowed to cure. To provide further strength a piece of fabric is cut to size and embedded in the foam rubber after it is poured into the mould. Once the mould has fully cured, each piece is separated and attached to the exterior of the figure providing the appearance and texture similar to that of "skin".




An animatronics character is typically designed to be as realistic as possible and thus, is built similarly to how it would be in real life. The framework of the figure is like the "skeleton". Joints, motors, and actuators act as the "muscles". Connecting all the electrical components together are wires, such as the "nervous system" of a real animal or person.



Machanics of a shark bite  Bare frame of a mechanical shark model


Shark bites teeth radious 



Frame or skeleton


Steel, aluminum, plastic, and wood are all commonly used in building animatronics but each has its best purpose. The relative strength as well as the weight of the material itself should be considered when determining the most appropriate material to use. The cost of the material may also be a concern.

Exterior or skin

Several materials are commonly used in the fabrication of an animatronics figure's exterior. Dependent on the particular circumstances, the best material will be used to produce the most lifelike form. For example, "eyes" and "teeth" are commonly made completely out of acrylic.






White latex is commonly used as a general material because it has a high level of elasticity. It is also pre-vulcanized, making it easy and fast to apply. Latex is produced in several grades. Grade 74 is a popular form of latex that dries rapidly and can be applied very thick, making it ideal for developing molds.


Foam latex is a lightweight, soft form of latex which is used in masks and facial prosthetics to change a person's outward appearance, and in animatronics to create a realistic "skin". The Wizard of Oz was one of the first films to make extensive use of foam latex prosthetics in the 1930s.







Disney has a research team devoted to improving and developing better methods of creating more lifelike animatronics exteriors with silicone.


RTV silicone (room temperature vulcanization silicone) is used primarily as a molding material as it is very easy to use but is relatively expensive. Few other materials stick to it, making molds easy to separate.

Bubbles are removed from silicone by pouring the liquid material in a thin stream or processing in a vacuum chamber prior to use. Fumed silica is used as a bulking agent for thicker coatings of the material.






Polyurethane rubber is a more cost effective material to use in place of silicone. Polyurethane comes in various levels of hardness which are measured on the Shore scale. Rigid polyurethane foam is used in prototyping because it can be milled and shaped in high density. Flexible polyurethane foam is often used in the actual building of the final animatronic figure because it is flexible and bonds well with latex.



As a commonplace construction and home decorating material, plaster is widely available. Its rigidity limits its use in moulds, and plaster moulds are unsuitable when undercuts are present. This may make plaster far more difficult to use than softer materials like latex or silicone.



Mimicking the often subtle displays of humans and other living creatures, and the associated movement is a challenging task when developing animatronics. One of the most common emotional models is the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) developed by Ekman and Friesen. FACS defines that through facial expression, humans can recognize 6 basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. Another theory is that of Ortony, Clore and Collins, or the OCC model which defines 22 different emotional categories.


Raft for lauching and recovering the Jaws shark robots


The floating rig or raft from which 'Bruce,' one of the animatronic sharks used to make the Jaws movie was launched and recovered. One of the most famous rafts in history was that used by Thor Heyerdahl for his Kontiki expedition in 1947. Thor was born in 1914 and celebrated his 100th birthday on the 6th of October 2014. The Kontiki raft covered 4,300 nautical miles in 101 days at an average speed of 42.5 miles per day.






The good the bad and the ugly: Some of the model sharks that you can buy are superbly designed, others less so, but it all depends on the age group that the toys are aimed at. There is no point making a toy for a 5 year old that is as sophisticated as one of the high end model 'U' Boat submarines, many of which are used for wargaming and even have working torpedoes.





  Shark submarine animatronic toy


The above is a small selection of the vast number of radio controlled model sharks.





Anyone who has a passing interest in the Jaws movie knows that the animatronic shark kept breaking down. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because Steven Spielberg had to add more character development and depth to the script to build tension. Not though a great beginning for marine animatronics.

The film though was a great success, mainly from the concept of the giant shark that is hunting humans. When we do see the shark, it is superbly scary. If the 'great-white' robot had not been effective, even in the brief flashes it’s shown, Jaws wouldn’t be the masterpiece of ocean terror we know and love today. 





BRUCE - was built with plywood formers as you can see, mated to steel frames wherever there is a hinge for movement. We are not sure if any of the Jaws sharks were designed to emulate a real swimming stroke authentically, but if we were making a shark, we'd be sure to study a real fish and replicate that movement. Nature has already done the design work for you. The first port  of call is the cartilaginous backbone, then the muscles. An exoskeleton arrangement with flexible skin over the sections would be just too stiff. You'd be better off with a backbone and a soft polyurethane foam former (or foam latex sandwich), onto which is stretched a flexible skin. Then if the robot mechanism (muscles) has the same degree of movement as the real fish, it will move and even swim like the real thing. Imagine if you will a scuba diver's flipper. The blade is flexible, a human foot is relatively inflexible. It is the flexibility of the flipper blade (fin) multiplied by the area that allows a scuba diver to swim so fast, converting to-and-fro into thrust efficiently. Fish rely on the same principle.







When Jaws was first set up at Universal, the book by Peter Benchley was still in galleys, and the biggest names attached to it were producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck. The first person onboard to work on Jaws was art director Joe Alves. Once Bob Mattey had confirmed to Joe Alves that the shark could be made, he was given the green light to get to work. 


In January of 1974, Jaws the novel was published and it was a best-seller, somewhat accelerating the film. Hence, Universal Pictures decreed the movie had to be shot that summer, which gave Mattey no time to perfect his mechanical monster-piece.



Steven Speilberg, the director of Jaws, the Movie  Richard Dreyfus as Hooper in Jaws




The animatronic shark in Jaws showed how effective a robotic special effect could be. While the stories of it malfunctioning are legendary, it is completely believable and terrifying onscreen - for the its time. The climax, where the shark and Roy Schieder battle to the death, is utterly dependent on the creature's effectiveness and though it had a relatively stiff or restricted movement, it delivers. While Steven Spielberg hid the shark until the climax, Bob Mattey's monster lives up to the film's build-up by being as scary as we potential audiences were told it would be - up to that point.

Jaws was snubbed for an Oscar for special effects, which went to the bland Hindenburg, as the shark led us into the '80s and early '90s, which became a boom time for animatronic creatures that made millions for their studios - including Spielberg's own Jurassic Park.

Three sharks were built for Jaws at the cost of $150,000 each. They were collectively named Bruce, after Spielberg's lawyer. Roy Arbogast, who was honing his monster making skills as Mattey’s assistant, is quoted as saying that the sharks had a skin of hard polyurethane rubber over a tubular-steel skeleton. As special effects supervisor Kevin Pike recalled in "Just When You Thought It Was Safe," when painting the shark, “We used chopped-up walnuts, sand and dust in the paint to give the skin texture on the surface."







The more than 20 feet (nearly 7m) long sea beast was filmed by cage divers in Mexico. The sheer scale of the monster fish is jaw dropping when seen next to the divers.

One, who was precariously on top of rather than in the cage, even patted it away after it approached the metal structure teeth bared. 

The Megalodon was a now extinct prehistoric shark that grew to 60 feet or 20 metres and devoured whales, but some believe some specimens may have survived the extinctions and still lurk in the depths of the ocean. The massive shark has actually been seen before and is nicknamed Deep Blue.

The latest sighting of her was in water near Mexico's Guadalupe Island. It is estimated at 50 years old and thought to be one of the biggest in the world today.

The shark, who is estimated to be around 50 years old, is believed to be one of the largest great white sharks ever seen.

Shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos Padilla has been able to tag the shark. He posted the new footage on facebook, saying: "I give you the biggest white shark ever seen in front of the cages in Guadalupe Island…Deep Blue.”

The shark gets nerve-rackingly close to the divers, but does not appear to show any aggression.


US Navy Ghost shark submarine 





Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering, control engineering and computer engineering. As technology advances the subfields of engineering multiply and adapt. Mechatronics' aim is a design process that unifies these subfields. Originally, mechatronics just included the combination of mechanics and electronics, hence the word is a combination of mechanics and electronics; however, as technical systems have become more and more complex the word has been broadened to include more technical areas.

The word "mechatronics" originated in Japanese-English and was created by Tetsuro Mori, an engineer of Yaskawa Electric Corporation. The word "mechatronics" was registered as trademark by the company in Japan with the registration number of "46-32714" in 1971. However, afterward the company released the right of using the word to public, and the word "mechatronics" spread to the rest of the world. Nowadays, the word is translated in each language and the word is considered as an essential term for industry.

French standard NF E 01-010 gives the following definition: “approach aiming at the synergistic integration of mechanics, electronics, control theory, and computer science within product design and manufacturing, in order to improve and/or optimize its functionality".

Many people treat "mechatronics" as a modern buzzword synonymous with "electromechanical engineering". However, other people draw a distinction between an "electromechanical component" - does not include a computer; an electro-mechanical computer (such as the Z4) - does not include an electronic computer; vs. a "mechatronic system" - a computer-controlled mechanical system, including both an electronic computer and electromechanical components.





A mechatronics engineer unites the principles of mechanics, electronics, and computing to generate a simpler, more economical and reliable system. The term "mechatronics" was coined by Tetsuro Mori, the senior engineer of the Japanese company Yaskawa in 1969. An industrial robot is a prime example of a mechatronics system; it includes aspects of electronics, mechanics, and computing to do its day-to-day jobs.

Engineering cybernetics deals with the question of control engineering of mechatronic systems. It is used to control or regulate such a system (see control theory). Through collaboration, the mechatronic modules perform the production goals and inherit flexible and agile manufacturing properties in the production scheme. Modern production equipment consists of mechatronic modules that are integrated according to a control architecture. The most known architectures involve hierarchy, polyarchy, heterarchy, and hybrid. The methods for achieving a technical effect are described by control algorithms, which might or might not utilize formal methods in their design. Hybrid systems important to mechatronics include production systems, synergy drives, planetary exploration rovers, automotive subsystems such as anti-lock braking systems and spin-assist, and everyday equipment such as autofocus cameras, video, hard disks, and CD players.




HUMPBACK - This is a 1/20th scale model of Kulo Luna, a humpback whale for use in displays with the SeaVax and Elizabeth Swan tank test models. She is made of fibreglass, 760mm (30") long and will float in water at the correct displacement. Seen here in a basecoat for final grey and white primer coats before detailing. The skills needed to make such models quickly might be needed for larger exhibits in connection with the Cleaner Ocean Foundation's awareness campaigns. Imagine a full size humpback whale or even a megalodon. Copyright © Jameson Hunter December 22 2018.




MOUNTED - Most of our models are fitted to revolving displays where the stand is motorised. This humpback whale model is fixed to a modified camera tripod for static showing. The detailing of this artwork is to follow the Refill event in Eastbourne on January the 26th 2019. Copyright © Jameson Hunter December 24 2018.




There even motorised model dolphins, so realistic that the real ones – among the smartest animals on earth – happily accepted them into family groups. In one sequence shot off the coast of Costa Rica in Central America, a 15mph Spy Dolphin guided by experts in a high-speed inflatable boat on the surface, easily kept pace with real-life spinner dolphins which can cover 250 miles a day. Then, when the spinners dived, the surveillance task was passed from Spy Dolphin on the surface to a superfast Spy Tuna submarine. What might look like a colourful fish, squid, giant clam or turtle has at its heart a small submersible packed with high-tech equipment.










Sea Life Sydney Aquarium (formerly Sydney Aquarium) is a public aquarium located in the city of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is located on the eastern (city) side of Darling Harbour to the north of the Pyrmont Bridge. It is a full institutional member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).

The aquarium contains a large variety of Australian aquatic life, displaying more than 700 species comprising more than 13,000 individual fish and other sea and water creatures from most of Australia's water habitats. Additionally, the aquarium features 14 themed zones including a Bay of Rays, Discovery Rockpool, Shark Walk, and the world’s largest Great Barrier Reef display. Along the way, visitors encounter animals unique to each habitat, including two of only six dugongs on display in the world, sharks, stingrays, turtles, platypuses, penguins and tropical fish, among others.


The Sydney Aquarium has distinctly Australian themes and exhibits, which take visitors through the continent's waterways and marine ecosystems. Exhibits cover the rivers of Australia, exploring the Southern and Northern River habitats, as well as the oceans of Australia, through the Southern and Northern Ocean habitats. The complex and fragile nature of Australia's very different and unique aquatic environments is emphasized.

Some of the displays are housed in the main exhibit hall and others are housed in floating oceanariums. The Seal Sanctuary and Open Ocean exhibits comprise two massive oceanariums, amongst the largest in the world, and have underwater tunnels allowing visitors to examine marine life at close quarters. In the Open Ocean Oceanarium, Sydney Aquarium houses a large collection of sharks. Some of the sharks weigh up to 300 kilograms (660 lb) and are over 3 metres (9.8 ft) in length.








It is the world's biggest shark - and it's on land. The 7.4m-long beast is at least half a metre larger than any great white found in the wild and it has jaws to match. The only consolation is it is not real but visitors to Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour might find themselves thinking otherwise.

The giant shark, which will be on display from Monday, has been built to look identical to a real one, with model-maker Paul Trefry burying himself in books, images and videos of great whites and then working 24/7 for seven weeks to recreate one.

But the real killer move is that a sensor will be installed near the shark's head so that as kids walk around it it will suddenly rear up as if to swallow them whole.

The jaws stick out and its eyes even roll back in their sockets in a perfect re-creation of an animal seizing its prey in the wild. The overall effect is about 50 per cent higher than paralytically terrifying.

Trefry said that even while working on the shark's mouth he suffered cuts and scratches and had a first-hand demonstration of how the angle of the teeth made it impossible for victims to escape a shark's grip.



1-5 Wheat Road
Darling Harbour


Tel: 1-800-199-657

Merlin Entertainments Press Office: Tel: 0447 136 535

Sydney Aquarium Company Pty Ltd, is part of the Merlin Entertainments Group






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NOT BRUCE - a model shark built like this hasn't got a hope in hell of achieving a realistic movement.  There is little point trying to make a submersible look like a shark (even superficially) if it prevents the machine from working efficiently as a vessel. The only useful thing on this model is to demonstrate the bite - or maybe the swimming action. But even then, a shark's jaws are rather more complex. We bet they had a whole lot of fun making it and putting it in the water for whatever tests they were running.





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