Researchers have developed an underwater computer touchscreen exclusively for dolphins to play games.
With the smartphone built just for them and a little bit of training, dolphins can play games like Whack-a-Mole, the researchers found.
As the eight-feet underwater touchpad allows dolphins to interact and make choices, it could be used to investigate dolphin intelligence and communication by providing them choice and control over a number of activities.
The touchscreen features specialised dolphin-friendly “apps” and a symbolic keyboard to provide the dolphins with opportunities to interact with the system, Rockefeller University said in a news release this week.
To make the system safe for the dolphins, the touchscreen has been installed outside an underwater viewing window, so that no parts of the device are in the pool. The animals’ touch is detected optically.
“It was surprisingly difficult to find an elegant solution that was absolutely safe for the dolphins, but it has been incredibly rewarding to work with these amazing creatures and see their reactions to our system,” said Marcelo Magnasco, Professor at Rockefeller University in New York.
“It has always been hard to keep up with dolphins, they are so smart; a fully interactive and programmable system will help us follow them in any direction they take us,” Magnasco said.
While the research is still in its early stages, the team has embarked on studies aimed at understanding dolphin vocal learning and communication, their capacity for symbolic communication, and what patterns of behaviour may emerge when the animals have the ability to request items, videos, interactions and images.
In addition to the touchscreen itself, the dolphins’ habitat at the National Aquarium has been outfitted with equipment to record their behaviour and vocalisations as they encounter and begin to use the technology.
“We hope this technologically-sophisticated touchscreen will be enriching for the dolphins and also enrich our science by opening a window into the dolphin mind,” Diana Reiss, Professor at Hunter College in New York, said.
“Giving dolphins increased choice and control allows them to show us reflections of their way of thinking and may help us decode their vocal communication,” Reiss added.