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Dolphin touchscreens further animal behaviour understanding

12 June 2017

Dolphins are using an 8 ft (approximately 2.4m) underwater touchscreen as scientists attempt to learn more about their intelligence and ability to interact. The screen uses optical technology specifically designed for the research being carried out by Hunter College and Rockerfeller University at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, USA.

Dolphins can use the underwater computer touchscreen to interact and make choices. The system will be used to investigate dolphin intelligence and communication by providing them choice and control over a number of activities.

The eight-foot underwater touchscreen offers dolphin-friendly apps and a symbolic keyboard to allow dolphins to interact with the system. 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.

Research is being carried out by Diana Reiss, a dolphin cognition and communication research scientist and Professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College; biophysicist Marcelo Magnasco, Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience at Rockefeller University; Ana Hocevar, a postdoctoral research scientist; and Sean Woodward, a doctoral student, both in Magnasco’s lab.

“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,” says Reiss. “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.”

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